They didn’t always agree on what to do, but scores of concerned citizens penned letters urging the federal Liberals to address police mistreatment of Black and Indigenous people as the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota helped spark indignation about injustices in Canada.
Hundreds of pages of correspondence disclosed through the Access to Information Act reveal deep mistrust of the RCMP and other police services, along with plenty of suggestions on how to make things better.
Many of the emails, from May 25 to July 1 of last year, were addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though they all wound up in the inbox of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, the cabinet member responsible for the Mounties and the federal prison and border agencies.
In most cases the senders’ names were removed, out of respect for privacy, before release under the access law.
“The people should know they are safe in the presence of the law,” said a message from Toronto. “Right now, many do not.”
A Verdun, Que., writer said that as a white male he had never experienced racial or gender discrimination, so he could not truly understand the pain and rage of people of colour. “But I feel their pain and will not remain silent.”
Added another letter: “Although we might need the police in some specific instances, the unrestrained force that they regularly use against Black and Indigenous people is appalling and completely unacceptable in a country like Canada.”
At an anti-racism rally in Ottawa last June, Trudeau put one knee to the ground, his head bowed, as others also took a knee around him. The demonstration was one of several events in Canada following days of rallies against racism and police brutality in numerous American cities prompted by Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki initially stopped short last June of endorsing Trudeau’s assessment that the national police force, like all Canadian institutions, exhibits systemic racism.
In a sudden reversal soon after, Lucki spoke with regret for not having done so.
A writer from Powell River, B.C., told Trudeau in mid-June it was time for Lucki to go.
“Enough is enough! The replacement of the current commissioner will send notice to our police and all our nation’s people that this laissez-faire hedging and outright denial will not stand.”
A New Brunswick correspondent advised the prime minister that demanding Lucki’s resignation would not rid the RCMP of racism, and instead recommended improved recruitment and training of Mounties. “Selecting better suited candidates would go a long way in rectifying the situation.”
The Mounties should be completely removed from Indigenous communities, a writer from Amherst, N.S., said after seeing a video of the RCMP violently arresting Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in Alberta.
“I have read before that the Indigenous people have grown to distrust the RCMP and I now see why.”
A letter from Calgary urged Blair late last July to take drastic action by diverting funds from police forces to “those measures that actually address the root of crime,” such as education, mental-health services, housing and social work.
“There are countless examples of police brutality in Canadian history, and without acknowledging this fact and actively working to change it, there will continue to be,” the message says.
An email from B.C. rejected the notion of reducing police budgets, calling instead for better training of officers in arrest methods.
Another letter writer urged the prime minister to take concrete steps as soon as possible to reform Canadian policing to eliminate racial bias.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t done enough yet to save the lives and preserve the well-being of Black and Indigenous Canadians,” the letter says.
“I don’t know what the solutions are, but I encourage you to listen to the people who do.”
The House of Commons public safety committee is preparing to release a report on systemic racism in policing.
In last fall’s throne speech, the Liberal government promised legislation and money to address systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system.
It pledged action on issues ranging from sentencing and rehabilitation to improved civilian oversight of the RCMP and standards on police use of force.
The planned measures also include modern training for police and other law-enforcement agencies, as well as broader RCMP reforms that emphasize a shift toward community-led policing.
In addition, the Liberals promised to speed up work on a legislative framework for First Nations policing as an essential service, seen as crucial to ensuring safety in Indigenous communities.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press