Freeland says police must acknowledge racism, advocates call for action

Freeland says police must acknowledge racism, advocates call for action

OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says all federal agencies, including police, must understand that systemic racism is a problem, but advocates say they want more than the minister’s acknowledgment that there is a problem.

“It’s paying lip service,” said Dieulita Datus, the co-organizer of an anti-racism group in central Alberta.

“We are beyond simply understanding. We are beyond simply having conversations. What we need now is change — systematic change.”

Freeland’s comment came in response to media questions Wednesday about the commanding officer of the Alberta RCMP saying there is no systemic racism in Canadian policing.

“It is very important for all federal government institutions, including the police, to operate from an understanding that systemic racism is a problem for us here in Canada, to not be complacent about that, and we have to work together against it,” she said.

Freeland added that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair had spoken to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki about acknowledging racism.

“We know that a really big challenge for our government and for all of us is, first of all, of course, to acknowledge that this systemic racism exists and to take concrete action to work against it and, ultimately, to dismantle it,” Freeland said.

Later Wednesday, in an story published in The Globe and Mail, Lucki disputed that there’s systemic racism in the force and that the problem is unconscious bias of a minority of officers who fail to follow RCMP values.

“I really struggle with the term ‘systemic racism,’” Lucki was quoted as saying. “I think that if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism.”

On Monday, Alberta Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said Canada is different than the United States, in response to a question about the wave of protests around the world following the death of a George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis last month.

“I don’t believe that racism is systemic through Canadian policing. I don’t believe it’s systemic through policing in Alberta,” Zablocki told reporters in Edmonton.

But he did say that racism is “prevalent” in all aspects of society, including in police services.

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld weighed in Wednesday, saying that he had thought there was no systemic racism within his department until he talked to Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

“Two weeks ago, I might have told you, ‘No.’ And I thought that was the case,” Neufeld said.

“I think when we listened downtown, when we were hearing the community talk about situations they’ve experienced, it does make you stop and think.”

Datus, who co-founded Ubuntu — Mobilizing Central Alberta in Red Deer, Alta. with Sadia Khan, said Zablocki’s comment is naive and shows a lack of dialogue with communities of colour.

Khan, however, added that Freeland’s response also shows a lack insight about what demonstrators are asking for: real action on racism.

Simply recognizing systemic racism exists is not sufficient for a federal minister anymore, said El Jones, a community activist in Halifax.

“If (Freeland) wants to deal with racism, she could deal with migrant work conditions. If she wants to deal with racism, she could talk about federal prisons. She has the power to do all those things,” Jones said.

She added that many reports and inquiries could have been acted on prior to recent demonstrations. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for policing reforms, including teaching officers about the “history of police in the oppression and genocide of Indigenous People.”

Jones said people are not going to the streets to see politicians take a knee or recognize issues that Black and Indigenous people have always experienced. They want a promise and action.

“What does it mean to acknowledge racism exists?” she asked.

“The only reason it means something is if you are then prepared to do something about it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2020.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg, with files from Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Canadian Press

racism

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

Just Posted

Samson Cree Nation reeling after 10 year-old-boy-shot, 13-year-old charged with manslaughter

‘Don’t give up, keep praying, we will get through this’

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Aug. 9

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4:00… Continue reading

Team says technical issues from ‘unprecedented demand’ left Oilers raffle in limbo

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers’ record-setting online 50/50 raffle from Friday with… Continue reading

Update: Possible drowning at Pigeon Lake involved man and woman from Edmonton

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

‘Do our lives count for less?’: COVID-19 exposes cracks in disability aid

Karyn Keith says she isn’t asking for much. All she wants is… Continue reading

Who can dismiss the Governor General? A look at protocols and possibilities

OTTAWA — With Gov. Gen. Julie Payette finding herself the focus of… Continue reading

Liberals turn over thousands of pages on WE decision

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government has turned over thousands of pages… Continue reading

US hits 5 million confirmed virus cases, Europe is amazed

ROME — With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 5 million… Continue reading

University of Victoria and women’s rowing coach sued over alleged verbal abuse

VANCOUVER — A former member of the University of Victoria’s varsity women’s… Continue reading

Parents, teachers press Quebec to revise back-to-school plan amid COVID-19

MONTREAL — For Politimi Karounis, August is usually spent buying new backpacks,… Continue reading

Most Read