Discussions about changing the way police work in northern communities now “have momentum,” says the outgoing commander of Yellowknife’s RCMP detachment.
The passing of George Floyd earlier this year, a Black man who died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes, sparked protests around the world.
Those demonstrators sought to highlight the continual violence that Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colour describe in interactions with the police.
In Canada’s North, overrepresentation of Indigenous people within the justice system has long been a concern. Amid the broader questioning of police practice’s following Floyd’s death, how police both in Yellowknife and smaller communities approach their work is under renewed scrutiny.
Laporte told Cabin Radio now is a “time to listen.”
“It’s understanding, it’s hearing the voices,” he said. “A lot of people have gone through terrible things in their life, and they have had the opportunity to share some of it.
“I think there’s some momentum in relation to this discussion. There’s lots of people engaging. And I think this is going to be beneficial for the public, it’s going to be beneficial for our agency, for police as a community partner. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how things are going to progress and where it’s going to take us.”
Protesters in recent months have begun a movement to “defund the police,” a catch-all phrase encompassing many different means of shifting police work to other agencies.
For example, some groups have questioned whether police are the most appropriate responders to concerns involving people with mental health challenges, as is often the case in the NWT.
Asked if police funds in the territory could be better spent addressing social issues in other ways, Laporte said RCMP were already cultivating partnerships with the likes of the Yellowknife Women’s Society and NWT Disabilities Council.
“It’s a matter of finding the right solutions, but solutions that are sustainable as well,” he said. “We cannot be reactive, and we need solutions that can endure time and offer services for people to get well, get better, and get better as a community.
“I was fortunate enough in my time in Yellowknife to be part of that great collaboration, be part of the momentum that still exists in relation to bring solutions and innovations towards social health issues.”
Laporte, who became the detachment commander in 2018, now moves to Ottawa with his family.
Inspector Dyson Smith will take his place in Yellowknife.
“I came in here as a drug investigator in 2008 [and] as a newlywed. I’m leaving now with a family, two beautiful children that [were] born here in Yellowknife, [and] memories for life,” said Laporte.
“I’m very thankful for the folks of Yellowknife and the [Yellowknives] Dene First Nations for this life experience that my family and I have had here.”