Anti-racism advocate calls new House committee study of systemic racism a 'stalling tactic'
One of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Toronto says it’s time politicians move beyond studying the existence of systemic racism in Canadian policing and start taking action to eliminate it.
Long-time community organizer Sandy Hudson says the House of Commons public safety committee’s newly launched review signals a "stalling tactic" by members of Parliament to avoid applying already proposed tactics to mitigate police brutality against minorities in Canada.
"I don’t know what would make a committee that has no punitive powers have some sort of magical ability, outside of all the other committees that have ever existed, to hold police to account. That’s outrageous," said Hudson. "It’s right there in black and white, I don’t know what else they need."
On June 23, committee members unanimously approved NDP MP Jack Harris’ motion to study systemic racism in Canadian policing. This came days after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh brought forward a motion calling on the House to recognize systemic racism within the RCMP and ask for an assessment of police budgets, accountability measures, and officer training.
Hudson says the solution exists and lies in reassigning police budgets.
"Having another inquiry doesn’t hold people to account, that’s an investigation. Holding an institution to account would be defunding it and stopping it from doing what we already know it does because we’ve done these reviews," said Hudson.
Committee chair and Liberal MP John McKay says a key objective for the group’s review is to consider the relationship police have with the people they’ve pledged to protect.
"I just don’t know what part of the social contract allows a police officer to do particularly what we see in south, which is beat the crap out of citizens and sometimes worse than that. There, the social contract is clearly broken," he told CTVNews.ca this week.
The group has already held its first meeting, with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki kicking off witness hearings.
While Blair touted the need for Indigenous leadership in police forces across Canada, Lucki said the RCMP is "not a perfect organization" but is learning, listening, and is committed to improving. She said this after walking back earlier remarks that she struggles with the definition of systemic racism.
At one point during the June hearing, Lucki was asked by Liberal MP Greg Fergus to provide an example of systemic racism in the RCMP. She then referenced the challenges short members of the police force face in completing an obligatory physical evaluation test.
"How many six-foot people do we hire? And there are people in all different cultures that may not be six feet, including there’s not a lot of women that are six feet tall, that would not be able to get through that type of test," Lucki said.
Fergus responded that her example was one of "systemic discrimination," not racism.
Asked what he thought of the commissioner’s response, McKay said it justified the need for the committee’s study of systemic racism.
"At the end of the two hours, there was a pretty clear consensus among the parties that we had to continue to do the study and do something a little more substantive than just simply calling in the commissioner and the minister and ask them pointed questions," he said.
"If the committee is going to make a serious contribution to this issue, which I hope it does, it does need a lot more flushing out and to hear from people whose lives have been affected by their interactions with the police."
Hudson argues the "flushing out" has already been done by experts and social scientists for decades and that it’s the politicians who now need to be held accountable.
"What is it that we don’t understand? Do we need to know the very thought process that was going through each and every single police officer’s mind as more and more Indigenous and Black people are dying?" she said. "It keeps happening on a systemic level so stop questioning people and start stopping it."
McKay said the next round of committee hearings – an extensive two-day meeting at the end of July – will include somewhere between "16 and 24" witnesses from national organizations, experts in the field, and academics.
He cautioned there could be some initial hurdles to overcome in trying to gain consensus from all four parties represented within the committee – the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Bloq Quebecois.
"I think the committee will have some initial difficulties sorting itself out because the subject matter is quite large and I won’t to pretend to know which way the committee will sort itself. You know, three out of the four parties I would say have some enthusiasm for it."
CTV News reached out to co-chair of the committee, Bloc Quebecois MP Kristina Michaud, for an interview about what she hopes to achieve from the study but she was unavailable. Fellow Conservative co-chair MP Pierre Paul-Hus was also unavailable for an interview but his office provided a statement.
"Conservatives acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in Canada; we condemn it and support calls to eliminate it. That is why, Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security supported a motion for the committee to study systemic racism in policing services in Canada," reads the statement.
Hudson says the onus is on all leaders, political and otherwise, to determine their fate on this issue.
"How do these politicians and people in power want to be remembered, as people who ushered [change] through or do they want to be remembered as people who stalled it?"