Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Girls Commissioner Michele Audette speaks during a press conference at the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak office in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

‘It is urgent:’ Commissioner calls for Indigenous bodies to oversee police

There are multiple recent stories about Indigenous people dying during encounters with police

Aboriginal civilian groups that would oversee police actions are long past due in Canada, says a commissioner who served on the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Michele Audette says it’s been obvious for decades that the way police are held accountable is failing Indigenous people and other communities of colour.

“It is urgent, very urgent, that we have a civilian body,” Audette said in an interview with The Canadian Press from Montreal.

For three years, Audette listened to testimony from Indigenous families and experts. She recalls stories about crime victims not being supported or families not taken seriously when a loved one disappeared. Some spoke about not knowing where to turn if they alleged police were the perpetrators of harm.

The inquiry’s final report was delivered to the federal government in June 2019. It included 231 “calls for justice” — many of which included police reform and increased oversight.

It urged federal and provincial governments to establish Indigenous civilian bodies in all jurisdictions to oversee investigations into cases involving Indigenous people.

Nothing happened, Audette said.

A spokesman for Public Safety Canada, which is responsible for policing and police oversight, said the government is working to address the inquiry’s report and there have been meetings with Indigenous leaders about Indigenous policing.

“While still early days, it can be expected that questions around effective civilian police oversight and the relationship between Canada’s Indigenous population and police services will surface and will need to be carefully assessed as work progresses on this mandate commitment,” Tim Warmington said in an email.

Ian McLeod, a federal Justice Department spokesman who could not speak to police oversight specifically, said there is a lot more work to do when it comes to supporting Indigenous people.

“We will continue working with First Nations, Inuit and Metis people, and with provincial, territorial and municipal partners to respond to the (inquiry’s) calls for justice,” he said in an email.

There are specialized services for Indigenous victims and the government also provides support to community-based programs and family liaison units, McLeod said.

Audette said the tide has started to turn with rallies demanding police reform after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in the United States. A police officer trying to arrest Floyd knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, even as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe.

There are many recent stories about Indigenous people dying during encounters with police.

Three Indigenous people — Eishia Hudson, 16, Jason Collins, 36, and Stewart Andrews, 22 — were killed by Winnipeg officers over a 10-day span in April. The province’s independent police watchdog is investigating.

In Toronto, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black-Indigenous woman, fell to her death from her balcony in May after police went to her apartment. Her family criticized Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit for clearing the officers of wrongdoing and its finding of no “overt racism” in their actions. Of that unit’s 52 investigators, two are Indigenous and three are Black.

In June, two Indigenous people died in encounters with police in New Brunswick, including 26-year-old Chantel Moore, who was shot after officers were called to do a wellness check. Quebec’s independent investigation unit was brought in to look at the circumstances of Moore’s death.

READ MORE: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation wants murder charge laid against police officer who shot Chantel Moore

Not a single investigator in that unit is Indigenous.

Audette said it shows the need for Indigenous oversight of such investigations.

“Even if you are a good person, it’s just the structure, the culture and … systemic discrimination or racism,” she said. “Let’s break this by having a civilian body.”

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said First Nations people in his province have been calling for reform for decades. He pointed to the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which investigated the brutal murder of Helen Betty Osborne near The Pas in 1971 and the fatal Winnipeg police shooting of John Joseph Harper in 1988.

The shooting of Harper was originally ruled an accident, but the inquiry said the officer used excessive force.

No one was convicted in Osborne’s death for 16 years. It was concluded that the most significant factors prolonging the young Cree woman’s case were racism, sexism and indifference of white people.

“Fundamentally, the missing piece is there is not enough of a political will and there’s not enough of a desire for the institutions to truly address these issues,” Dumas said.

He said he must remain hopeful the current push for police reform will finally lead to action.

“The only recourse, really, is to have an independent objective First Nations perspective on oversight of these issues.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

IndigenousPolice

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Electrical issue causes heavy smoke to billow from Oak Bay Avenue coffee shop

Victoria and Oak Bay fire crews responded to smoke at Victoria café

Former Victoria Royals manager celebrates Stanley Cup win

Grant Armstrong is now an amateur scout with Tampa Bay Lightning

Horgan frustrated as Transport Canada mandate for BC Ferry riders returns

Transport Canada reinstates rule that bans passengers from lower decks

Ladysmith man arrested in Saanich after towed sawmill draws attention

Police located the man thanks to social media and a keen-eyed witness

Vacuum sparks fire in Fernwood basement

Crews extinguish small fire in Empress Avenue home

105 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death as health officials urge B.C. to remember safety protocols

There are currently 1268 active cases, with 3,337 people under public health monitoring

B.C. VOTES 2020: Few solutions offered for ‘out of control’ camping

B.C. Liberals, NDP spend millions as problem keeps growing

National child-care plan could help Canada rebound from COVID-induced economic crisis: prof

A $2 billion investment this year could help parents during second wave of pandemic

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Parksville pedestrian airlifted to hospital in Vancouver after nighttime collision

Police report man’s injuries were ‘significant’ but not life-threatening

Shoplifting suspect allegedly spits on worker at store in Nanaimo

Suspect became aggressive when confronted by loss prevention officer at Walmart, say RCMP

Reincarnation, baby! Music-making B.C. couple celebrate ‘miracle’ pregnancy

‘I (said) to Adam, ‘I really think this is your brother reincarnated,’ Elise Estrada says

Most Read