OTTAWA—Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the Liberal government expects RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to reform the federal force amid calls for her resignation and pointed criticism of the Mounties’ handling of the Nova Scotia lobster fishery dispute.
But while Lucki appears to still have the government’s confidence, the Liberals have stopped short of a full-throated defence of the commissioner they appointed two years ago with an explicit mission to restore Canadians’ trust in the Mounties.
“All police services, including the RCMP, must be committed to ensuring the people they serve and protect are treated with dignity and respect,” Blair told the House of Commons.
“Police reform must ensure justice and fairness for all Canadians, and that reform is the mandate that we have given to the RCMP commissioner and what we expect from the RCMP.”
Blair said he spoke Monday to Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, who on Friday had called for Lucki’s resignation.
“The issues we discussed are serious, complex and long-standing, and they must begin with an acknowledgment that systemic and structural racism and bias exists throughout our criminal justice system,” Blair said.
That appeared to be a reference to Lucki’s resistance earlier this year to acknowledging systemic racism within the federal police force. In an interview with CTV News in June, Lucki said she had heard “five or six” definitions of systemic racism and she struggled with the idea that it exists within the RCMP.
She quickly revised that position, acknowledging systemic racism within the force.
Bellegarde was not available for an interview Monday. But in a statement Friday, the AFN chief said that he had “lost confidence” in Lucki’s leadership.
“The safety and security of all Canadians, including First Nations people, must be the top priority for the prime minister and the federal government,” Bellegarde said, calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to replace Lucki “with someone who will focus greater attention on public safety and combating racism.”
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who has been critical of Lucki and the RCMP, said the criticism facing the force is not directed at any particular officer — but he expected the commissioner to “show leadership.”
“This is about the forces that keep us safe and too often, as we’ve seen in events in the past with Indigenous peoples in particular, racialized Canadians have not felt protected by those forces,” Miller told reporters outside a cabinet meeting Monday.
“There’s no shame in recognizing it. There is some shame in not doing anything about that, and that’s simply what we’re asking.”
A senior government source, who was granted anonymity by the Star in order to discuss internal government deliberations, said there does not appear to be imminent plans to replace Lucki.
The Prime Minister’s Office pointed to Trudeau’s comments from Friday, when the prime minister said the government would continue to work with the commissioner but noted widespread concerns about “the functioning of our national police force.”
Lucki is now facing pressure from multiple sides — from politicians and the public, but also from within the ranks. Her predecessor, Bob Paulson, told the Star Monday that balancing those interests is “the hardest part of the job.”
“Certainly I found it a very challenging aspect of the job, to balance the interests of the members with the public interest. And the public interest isn’t always synonymous with political interests. And it’s very, very challenging,” Paulson said in an interview.
“And it’s very challenging especially when governments of the day may have views about how you’re performing your job and express that.”
Laura Huey, a criminologist at Western University focusing on policing issues, said the situation in Nova Scotia may point to a larger issue about the RCMP’s contract policing model — where the federal force enters into agreements with provinces and territories to provide policing across large, and largely remote, regions of the country.
“I think what most people have zero idea (of), is that policing in wide swaths of Canada is held together with bits of string, glue and maybe some paper clips,” said Laura Huey, a criminologist at Western University focusing on policing issues.
“When you look where the RCMP has traditionally had problems, it’s in rural and remote communities. And that’s because, again, a chronic shortage of police officers, chronic shortage around training. So you get into a situation, like a public order situation, these people have no idea how the hell to react to it.”
Asked for comment Monday, the RCMP’s National Division pointed to Lucki’s Twitter post on Friday.
“I remain committed to fulfilling my mandate of modernizing the RCMP with a strong focus on advancing Indigenous reconciliation,” read a message posted to Lucki’s account.