A two-day police conference at Winnipeg’s Fairmont Hotel, involving 180 delegates from across Canada, has resulted in several calls to action.
The meeting was aimed at developing community safety solutions and opening other forms of dialogue between police and the Indigenous community.
“Until root causes of violence are properly addressed, Indigenous people will continue to be vulnerable and disproportionately represented in Canada’s justice system,” said Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Getting tough on crime won’t fix the challenges before. We need to get tough on poverty, homelessness, racism and disadvantage.”
The summit was attended by several Indigenous leaders including: Grand Chief Derek Nepinak with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and National Chief Perry Bellegarde with the Assembly of First Nations.
“We need to better work together to rebuild a fractured relationship and rebuild the trust that is so badly needed to make positive change, achieve reconciliation and close the gap,” said Bellegarde who gave the opening address at the meeting on Wednesday.
He also cautioned police that they will get some blame in the upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
“You guys did not do an adequate job. You didn’t put enough human and financial resources into the research and the investigation surrounding all these cases involving First Nations women,” Bellegarde said during his speech.
Winnipeg’s Deputy Police Chief Danny Smyth agreed that was a fair statement, but said work is already being done before the inquiry has even begun.
“Training is essential and not just cultural awareness, but also training that centres around some of the systemic racism that we need to acknowledge,” Smyth told reporters.
Chief Weighill hoped the inquiry will lay some of the police-involved controversy to rest and hold people accountable.
“Let me assure you that probably within the last decade things have really changed on how police investigate missing persons,” said Weighill.
“Our policy has been completely been revamped. The days of waiting 24 hours are gone, that’s bolded right in our policy. If anybody comes in to report somebody missing we take that report immediately.
The conference resulted in some groundwork for a nation-wide approach for strengthening police relations and the lives of Indigenous peoples along with creating calls to action. One being immediate action prior to recommendations of a MMIW inquiry.
The chiefs also made note that Indigenous people in First Nations communities deserve the same quality of policing as people living in municipalities.
“It is about being responsive to what a community needs, it is the type of police service that particular service needs to be, the qualities of the officers, the manner in which service is delivered if that’s with the RCMP or if that’s with a stand-alone police service,” said Kevin Brosseau, Assistant RCMP Commissioner pointing to the Dakota Ojibway Police Service.
The final call to action is a continued relationship between police and indigenous leaders, something Chief Bellegarde is looking forward to.
“Every time you go to a conference, it’s not so much what happens at the conference, it’s what happens back home in your own territory, in your police forces, it’s what happens in your own provinces, in your respective jurisdictions to bring about those change and all those good things and recommendations that you learned here, put them into action.”