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

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

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Harvest Food Bank’s Zero Waste program. (Travis Winterwed file photo)
Zero waste program continues to drastically help the North Island

The zero waste program means that Save-On Foods no longer throws anything out.

Black Press file photo
Investigation at burned Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

“it’s believed that the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby is the deceased”

The Rein Forest Riders fence in Hyde Creek was damaged by a vehicle on the night of Jan. 15. (Lynn Iskra Facebook photo)
Port McNeill RCMP looking for suspect who damaged Rein Forest Riders property in Hyde Creek

“it’s certainly unfortunate, and it’s going to be a tough one because nobody saw anything.”

PROFILE PHOTO COURTESY OF KIMBERLEY KUFAAS PHOTOGRAPHY 
Tyson’s Thoughts is a column posted online at northislandgazette.com and in print on Wednesday’s. Have some thoughts about my thoughts? Email editor@northislandgazette.com
If fish farms are phased out, what does the future hold for Port Hardy?

“I hate seeing the town I grew up in take serious economic damage”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read