Responding to growing calls for the next RCMP commissioner to be an Indigenous person, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called it “an excellent Idea.”
The prime minister stopped short of outright committing to appointing an Indigenous RCMP commissioner, noting that there is “a whole independent process going forward,” but vowed to ensure that reconciliation “is going to be significant factor” in appointing a new top cop.
“I think seeing more and more Indigenous leadership throughout systems and institutions across the country, we should absolutely look at more diversity. We should absolutely look at bringing forward Indigenous voices to lead those institutions,” he told reporters in Ottawa on Friday.
This comes two weeks after the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) called for the appointment of a First Nations RCMP commissioner to “address the historic injustices of the RCMP and provide an unbiased approach to policing Indigenous people.”
“It’s not enough to accept new Indigenous recruits as junior officers. We know change must come from the top down and our people need to be granted the opportunity to hold management positions,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a Feb. 17 statement.
The latest RCMP diversity statistics show that 6.8 per cent of the force self-identified as Indigenous in 2022, a figure that has steadily declined for the past six years. In 2016, 8.1 per cent of the force was Indigenous.
The search for a new commissioner began in mid-February, after RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki announced that she would be resigning effective March 17. Lucki had been appointed in 2018 by Trudeau and pledged to be a reformer at a time when the force was facing issues of discrimination, workplace bullying, sexual harassment and misconduct.
However, during her tenure as commissioner, Lucki came under fire for the RCMP’s handling of the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia and the “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa two years later. In the summer of 2020, amid worldwide Black Lives Matter protests and calls to defund the police, Lucki also faced calls for her resignation after telling media outlets she “struggled” with the definition of systemic racism.
FSIN Second Vice Chief Dutch Lerat said an Indigenous RCMP commissioner “could implement systemic changes throughout the ranks and introduce a service delivery model to address systemic racism.”
“First Nations people distrust the current policing model. It’s connected to a legacy of trauma from negative interaction with police that continues today, as we see the over-representation of Indigenous people brought before justice, victimized and incarcerated,” Lerat said in a Feb. 17 statement.
Trudeau said Friday that while the federal government thinks there is merit in having an Indigenous leader of the police force, there is a “whole independent process” underway.
“But we have to understand that it’s not just about putting the right person at the top of an organization that makes the systemic change necessary. There is a huge amount of work on structures within our institutions, including the RCMP, to ensure that the entire force, the entire system, is fully respectful of Indigenous people, respectful of diversity, inclusive in everything it does, and responsive to the real needs on the ground,” Trudeau said. “I look forward to doing the important work of figuring out who would be the right leader to be the next commissioner of the RCMP, regardless of their background.”
When Lucki announced her coming departure, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said that through the recruitment process for her replacement he’d be searching for someone who was committed to continuing to reform the federal police force.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done with regard to the RCMP… and we will quickly begin the process of searching for a new RCMP commissioner who will reflect all the qualifications, the skills, the experience and the values to make those reforms and realize those reforms so that we can maintain the confidence of all Canadians in this institution,” Mendicino said.
With files from CTV News’ Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello.