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Indigenous Services minister slams police for ‘disgraceful, dehumanizing and violent act’

Indigenous Services minister slams police for ‘disgraceful, dehumanizing and violent act’
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OTTAWA—Canada’s Indigenous services minister has delivered a searing rebuke of police conduct during two incidents this week, as a growing anti-racism movement sweeps the continent and shines a light on police treatment of Indigenous peoples in this country.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill Friday morning, Marc Miller demanded answers over what he called “disgraceful, dehumanizing” conduct in Nunavut, where video broadcast by APTN this week showed a stumbling man get struck and knocked down by the door of a moving RCMP truck before he was arrested.

Miller also expressed disbelief over an incident in Edmunston, N.B., in which Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman from British Columbia, was shot and killed when local police arrived at her apartment for during a wellness check Thursday.

The RCMP and Edmunston police have said the actions of officers in both incidents will be investigated.

“A car door is not a proper police tactic. It’s a disgraceful, dehumanizing and violent act. I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check. When I first saw the report I thought it was some morbid joke. And you look at it, and you say ‘yes, there will be an independent investigation,’ but frankly — along with many Canadians, Indigenous peoples living in Canada, politicians — I’m pissed. I’m outraged,” Miller said.

“There needs to be a full accounting of what has gone on. This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself ... I can’t speak for Indigenous peoples, but you can see it. It’s palpable, it’s painful. Police serve Canadians and Indigenous peoples of Canada, not the opposite. And it’s something we need to reckon (with) as a society as we look south to the disgraceful acts that are occurring down there.”

For more than a week, American cities have been convulsed by street demonstrations denouncing police brutality and anti-Black racism that were sparked by the death of George Floyd after video showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes. Demonstrations have spread to Canada, with marches in cities including Toronto and Ottawa, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined protesters Friday afternoon.

Speaking earlier outside his residence at Rideau Cottage, Trudeau said he salutes the demonstrators and called videos and reports he has seen in recent days “disturbing.” He also vowed the federal government would take action to address systemic racism and improve policing, but did not specify what actions are being considered after being asked repeatedly by reporters.

“Far too many Canadians feel fear and anxiety at the sight of law-enforcement officers,” he said. “This has long been their reality, but over the past weeks we’ve seen a large number of Canadians suddenly awaken to the fact that the discrimination that is a lived reality for far too many of our fellow citizens is something that needs to end. And that is what we are working on.”

Trudeau’s pledge echoes a similar promise he made one year ago, when the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls delivered its final report to the prime minister at a ceremony across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill. At the time, Trudeau vowed his government would produce a national action plan to address the inquiry’s 231 “ calls to justice ,” which included a number of demands for law enforcement.

Among them were calls for Indigenous civilian oversight of police forces across Canada, new funding for Indigenous law enforcement and the recruitment of Indigenous officers, and calls for better training and reviews to ensure “all actors within the justice system” are free of anti-Indigenous bias and racism.

More than a year later, the government has said it is still not ready to release the promised action plan in response the inquiry. Miller said Friday that the plan still needs work and input from different levels of government and Indigenous groups.

“If it is not ready, it would be imprudent and disrespectful to roll it out in a form that does not reflect the level of input,” he said.

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Lorraine Whitman, executive director of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said the events of recent days have underscored the need for government to move beyond words and act to eliminate racism that has existed — and spurred violence — for centuries. She pointed to the inquiry’s conclusion that Canada is responsible for ongoing “ colonial genocide ” against Indigenous peoples based on centuries of policies and inaction.

“I’m very disappointed in the government,” Whitman said of the delayed action plan. “This racism, this discrimination that’s occurring, it has to stop ... There’s so much pain, and yes, there’s a lot of frustration out there. But we need to act. It’s time to stop talking and now it’s time to walk the walk.”
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