June 17, 2020

OTTAWA, ONT – The Indigenous Bar Association in Canada (the “IBA”) expresses outrage and dismay at the continued use of excessive and deadly force by police in Canada against Indigenous Peoples. Rooted in colonialism, the systemic racism and violence against Indigenous Peoples must end. The time for substantive and fundamental change to policing practises in Canada, is now.

Even as protests across Canada and the United States have called for substantive change and police reform as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, the use of excessive and deadly force by police against Indigenous Peoples has continued. In the past week alone, Chantel Moore, and Rodney Levi were shot and killed by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) in New Brunswick. The IBA grieves with the families and communities of all victims of this unnecessary violence, and we remain steadfast in our solidarity with our Black relations.

The relationship between Indigenous Peoples and policing institutions has been consistently eroded by a long history of discrimination and violence used to enforce colonial policies aimed at assimilation and oppression. This history has spanned generations and has resulted in a complete lack of trust between Indigenous communities and police in Canada. The significance and impact of this cannot be overstated. An approach by police that is alive to this history and is genuine in its efforts to mend these relationships demands mandatory de-escalation training and implementation across Canada, in all areas of policing.

The IBA calls upon the federal, provincial and territorial governments to take immediate steps to end violence and systemic racism within Canada’s legal institutions, and in particular eliminate the proliferation of excessive, and often deadly, force by police against Indigenous Peoples. The urgent need to respect, value and preserve Indigenous lives in Canada demands nothing less.

The sustained efforts by police, governments, and oversight bodies to excuse the behaviours of their officers, or to deny these issues, serve only to perpetuate a system built to oppress and marginalize Indigenous Peoples. Recent public statements by high-ranking RCMP officials struggling to grasp the concept of systemic racism, and denying its existence in the force and subsequently recanting their positions following criticism, raises substantial concerns as to whether these individuals can effectively implement necessary change. Any notion that Canada, or its policing institutions, are immune from systemic racism and oppression, flies in the face of empirical studies and reports such as the Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System.

There are countless reports which have studied systemic and institutional racism and harmful discrimination against Indigenous People, such as the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, the Ipperwash Inquiry Report, the report of The Expert Panel on Policing in Indigenous Communities, and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. While all of these reports call for policing and the institutions and actors of the justice system to be culturally competent, anti-racist, accountable to and reflective of the Indigenous populations they serve, a unifying theme across these reports is the need to respect rights to self-determination.

The IBA emphasizes that a major part of the solution is to return control of policing to Indigenous communities.  Canada has recognized this to some extent since 1990, when it created the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP). Under this program, some First Nations have had the ability to have their own police forces. Over the years, however, the federal government capped the number of communities that could have ‘self-administered’ policing and scaled back funding.

There have been calls on Public Safety Canada to expand the FNPP and more recently to completely overhaul it in order to give all Indigenous communities greater ability to self-determine their own policing and for this to be recognized and funded as an essential service. In the Prime Minister’s December 13, 2019 mandate letter for the Minister of Public Safety, Justin Trudeau directed the development of “a legislative framework for First Nations policing, which recognizes First Nations policing as an essential service, and work with interested communities to expand the number of communities served by First Nations policing.”

We believe the numerous instances of violence and death to Indigenous peoples at the hands of Canadian police forces over the last several weeks underscores the urgency of moving such legislation forward.  This must happen simultaneously with a meaningful and measurable plan to strategically develop and implement measures, for both the short and long term, to rid Canadian police forces of systemic discrimination and make them more accountable to the populations they serve.  Measures taken must be developed in full collaboration with Indigenous stakeholders at all points of development, implementation, and follow-up procedures. This collaboration must be in full partnership with Indigenous peoples and not merely a consultative exercise. The commitments made to rid police forces of this discrimination must be measurable and achievable.  Policies and legislation which do not support dismantling this systemic discrimination must be immediately renounced and repealed.

The IBA is a national non-profit association comprised of Indigenous lawyers (practicing and non-practicing), legal academics and scholars, articling clerks and law students, including graduate and post-graduate law students. Our mandate is to promote the advancement of legal and social justice for Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the reform of laws and policies affecting Indigenous Peoples.


For more information, please contact IBA President Drew Lafond (dlafond@indigenousbar.ca) or visit www.indigenousbar.ca.