Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons.

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons.

MP Morrison reflects on systemic racism in public service, RCMP

Kootenay-Columbia MP wants RCMP mandate letters to prioritize combating racism

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison says prioritizing diversity and combating racism should be included in mandate letters for the RCMP commissioner and the public safety minister.

Morrison, who served with the RCMP for over three decades domestically and internationally, said he was left wanting for answers during a public safety committee meeting after questioning RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Bill Blair, the public safety minister, over systemic racism within the federal government public service.

Morrison also pressed Minister Blair over the dissolution of a cultural diversity advisory board for RCMP commanding officers in British Columbia.

“We wanted to talk and try and figure out what the RCMP was doing to deal with systemic racism that they’ve had and their next steps,” Morrison said.

He added that the public safety committee is going to have more meetings in the summer to identify issues of systemic racism in the RCMP and look at solutions to removing those barriers.

“I have some ideas on academia being involved, they’re independent, let them review our stats and interviews and come up with solutions based what they believe, not necessarily based on what the police believe, and so it’s more independent,” said Morrison. “And it’s not based on what politicians think, it’s based on having some academics from a variety of experts on criminology helping and guiding the RCMP and other provincial police forces and municipal police forces.”

The issue of racism in policing has touched off international demonstrations and protests ever since the death of George Floyd in the United States, a Black man who died after a police officer knelt on the man’s neck for over eight minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis.

Floyd’s death, which was recorded on video from a bystander, has sparked protests across the world and led to calls for law enforcement reform. In Canada, those protests amplified a week after Floyd’s death when Chantel Moore, a young Indigenous woman, was killed by police during a wellness check in New Brunswick.

In Cranbrook, demonstrators marched from the downtown Spirit Square to Rotary Park as part of an event to stand in solidarity against racism and discrimination on June 5. Similar events have been ongoing in communities across the province, which has put policing, and law enforcement funding, under the microscope.

Morrison said there are differences in police training, tools and responses with municipal, provincial and federal law enforcement between Canada and the United States.

“I think if you want to be critical — which is fine — let’s look at the RCMP, let’s look at Canadian policing and see where can we do a better job,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan, the commanding officer for RCMP in British Columbia, issued a statement in response to ‘global events and demonstrations’ at the beginning of June, outlining steps the police have taken during cadet training to recognize biases, ongoing diversity training and describing the accountability process if a complaint is lodged against an RCMP member.

“Racism and discrimination are societal challenges that transcend policing, but the BC RCMP will continue its efforts to deliver a workplace and police services free of bias by addressing these issues openly and transparently as part of the global community’s united stand against prejudice,” reads the statement. “This is one of the ways in which we strive to improve ourselves, our service and public confidence in policing.”

Morrison admits there are challenges for rural policing, particularly for members who are first on-scene for emergency response calls that involve medical or mental health aspects.

“In our remote areas where we have two or three detachment members there, they’re everything,” Morrison said. “It’s not like municipal police where a lot of people who are reacting, perhaps, are in municipalities where they have instant medical, mental health care facilities to help them,” he said.

“But it’s training too, if the RCMP are going to be responding to those calls, let’s train them professionally and train them up so they can.”

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