In a series of interviews last week, the RCMP’s top dog, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, failed to clearly acknowledge the presence of systemic racism within the nation’s police force. Her comments have since prompted one senator to call for her resignation.
"I have to admit, I really struggle with the term ‘systemic racism,’" said Commissioner Lucki, who’s held the title since 2018 and is the country’s first female in the role full-time, told The Globe and Mail. “I have heard about five or 10 different definitions on TV. I think that if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism.”
Following a direct contradiction from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who acknowledged that systemic racism is an issue “in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP,” Commissioner Lucki walked back her comments, releasing an expla-pology via a media statement.
“I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. I should have… As many have said, I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included. Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly."
But a written statement days after multiple bungled interviews raises more questions still. Like why was the Commissioner of the RCMP so woefully ill-prepared for an inquiry about systemic racism within her organization at a moment when the whole world is up in arms over police brutality and discrimination?
We asked three of Canada’s leading racism experts to rate the RCMP Commissioner’s answers. Here’s how they said she did:
Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto:
"I think [Commissioner Lucki’s] answer was absolute bullshit. I’m just going to be really frank about it. To suggest that there are five different definitions of systemic racism and that you’re confused is not really the point. I think the real point is that our public officials are actually learning about racism that their own institutions have been inflicting on our communities, from the media in 2020.
I don’t know why we have officials that are struggling to define racism in 2020. I have done presentations to elementary school with more nuanced analysis of racism. And I think it’s unacceptable and frankly bullshit for anyone in any leadership position anywhere in the country to stand there and not show an ounce of understanding of these basic issues. Institutional systemic racism really was coined 53 years ago and has been felt by Indigenous, Black and racialized people since day one of this country’s creation.
Dr. Lilian Ma, executive director at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF), an organization dedicated to studying racial discrimination in Canada in order to educate the public about it and eventually eliminate it:
"Many people don’t seem to understand what systemic racism is—they get stuck on what it means—and if you don’t know what it means, you probably think you don’t have it. Now, I can see there is systemic racism. You cannot eliminate systemic racism if you don’t realize it. If you don’t realize it and do nothing about it, it will be there forever.
We will never change the way we think—the mechanism will not change —but we can make use of the understanding of the mechanism. It’s like if you asked me, 'Why is the kettle boiling?' I could say, 'Oh, the kettle is boiling because I want to make a cup of tea,' or I could say, 'The kettle is boiling because I’m applying heat below and the water is absorbing all this heat and moving around and so on.' But the second answer is actually the 'how.' The first answer is the agency: 'why' I want the water to boil. So we want to understand the 'how' of racism in order to resolve the 'why.' Now, if you don’t want me to have a cup of tea, you turn off the heat. See what I’m saying? We have to understand the phenomenon itself and look at racism to study it as a whole subject. If we have that kind of knowledge, we can train people to start to get rid of the systemic racism in society."
Brandi Morin, Alberta-based Metis human rights journalist:
"I don’t condone somebody of her position commenting that she got educated on [racism] from watching TV. And that’s the sad situation we’re in, because it’s not something that’s discussed, it’s not something that’s recognized. I believe that it really is so entrenched that some people are absolutely ignorant to it. And for her to have been scrambling to find an answer to it, I mean, as an Indigenous woman and as a journalist who’s been covering these issues in Canada for decades, who’s been covering stories of human rights and systemic racism, to hear the head person for the RCMP respond like that, I was shocked but I wasn’t. I was like, 'Man, it really is this bad still in 2020.'
The organization that she oversees was literally created by the Dominion of Canada to seize the lands and clear the plains of the Indigenous people. That was its mandate. It was designed to oppress our people and it still filters out today into the policing systems that run this country. The RCMP carried out Canada’s oppressive, patriarchal, racist Indian Act, and they enforced all of those laws."