Tłı̨chǫ MLA speaks out on region’s policing experiences
The MLA for Monfwi says she is worried about “over-policing and police brutality” in her region after constituents shared their negative experiences with RCMP officers.
Jane Weyallon Armstrong, who represents the Tłı̨chǫ communities of Behchokǫ̀, Whatì, Gamètì, and Wekweètì, told the legislature there is a “long history of mistrust between Indigenous people and the RCMP” due to the legacy of colonialism.
“Many Tłı̨chǫ people are worried about their safety with the RCMP. They are afraid they will be wrongly accused or treated inhumanely,” she said. “There have been many, many incidents of being disrespected. Racist remarks, aggressive handling, bullying and intimidation, especially towards Indigenous women. This is violence against Indigenous people and it is totally unacceptable.”
Weyallon Armstrong said while the RCMP has a formal complaint process, it is “burdensome” and not accessible or culturally safe for many Indigenous people.
The MLA said she would like to see the police force improve its relationship with Indigenous people in the NWT, pointing to the RCMP’s recently announced plan with national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami as an example.
RJ Simpson, the territory’s minister of justice, noted the Dene Nation launched a two-year pilot program to address racism in policing last year by bringing Indigenous leaders and RCMP employees together. The NWT’s first community policing program, which aims to bridge the gap between community safety needs and the role of RCMP, has begun in Fort Liard.
Simpson added the federal government has ordered the RCMP to accelerate reform, with a focus on the calls to justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
‘Committed to reconciliation’
Weyallon Armstrong asked whether police officers in the territory would be required to wear body cameras.
Simpson said officers in Nunavut have been testing the use of body cameras with plans to expand their use across Canada.
“I expect that, at some point in the future, that will be happening in the territory,” he said.
In a statement, spokesperson Cpl Matt Halstead told Cabin Radio NWT RCMP “values its relationship with all communities that it serves.” He said if people are unsatisfied with police services or are concerned with how they have been treated, they should contact their local detachment.
“We remain committed to reconciliation and relationships within NT through our presence and engagement in every community,” he said.
NWT RCMP previously said it had developed a cultural awareness guide for employees that are new to a community, based on local resources. Officers are required to take training related to bias awareness, anti-racism, culture and humility, and trauma-informed policing.
Two RCMP officers are currently on trial for allegedly assaulting a woman from Whatì at the Yellowknife RCMP detachment in October 2020. They have both pleaded not guilty.
A $600-million class action filed on behalf of Indigenous people who claim they have been subjected to excessive force by the RCMP was certified in June 2021. It alleges Inuit, Métis and First Nations people are regularly assaulted by RCMP officers in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut because they are Indigenous.
The federal government is appealing the certification, arguing that any issues should not be dealt with as a class action.