OTTAWA—Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says an organization the size of the RCMP is going to have people with racist views and he’s appealing to the public to help root them out.
Goodale was responding to a surprisingly candid acknowledgment by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson that there are racist members within the national police force.
“When you’re dealing with an organization as big as the RCMP—some 30,000 members—not everybody’s perfect, and there will be bound to be some untoward attitudes that are harboured,” Goodale said outside the House of Commons on Thursday.
A day earlier, Paulson had spoken to a meeting of chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations in Gatineau, Que., where he faced a scathing, public broadside about attitudes among some police dealing with indigenous peoples and patrolling remote communities.
“I hear what you say, I understand there are racists in my police force,” the RCMP commissioner responded. “I don’t want them to be in my police force.”
He urged the assembled delegates to report any abuses, including to Paulson personally: “Call me if you are having a problem with a racist.”
Goodale, whose public safety portfolio includes responsibility for the Mounties, lauded such a frank admission “coming from the very top of the RCMP.”
“The message is clear: racism is intolerable, and if it’s brought to the commissioner’s attention, he will deal with it quickly and decisively,” said the veteran Liberal, a former finance minister. “And I’m very glad that he put that on the public record.”
The new Liberal government comes to office promising to reset the historically troubled relationship between the Crown and Canada’s indigenous peoples.
That starts with a commitment to address all 94 recommendations in the voluminous Truth and Reconciliation report on Canada’s residential school system, which was released earlier this year.
Justice Murray Sinclair, the judge who led the six-year commission of inquiry, said Paulson’s acknowledgment of police racism is just the start in dealing with the problem.
“It indicates an openness to have a conversation about that issue of racism within our national force and the real dialogue? is about how we handle that,” Sinclair told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday. “Once we know that, how do we handle it?”
Sinclair said he’s confident Paulson is tackling the issue.
“I have no doubt from my knowledge of the man that he is addressing it the best way that he can, but it may be that he has to engage in a process of consultation as well.”
Hunter Tootoo, the newly elected Liberal minister for fisheries and oceans, spoke Thursday to the AFN meeting across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill, where he noted he’s the first aboriginal to hold the portfolio.
“I am Inuk and I am with you,” said the Nunavut MP.
He spoke after NDP Leader Tom Mulcair told the convention that measuring indigenous success will be the key to holding the lofty Liberal rhetoric up to critical scrutiny.
Goodale said the entire Liberal cabinet is charged with turning the relationship around.
As Goodale put it, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that “of all the important relationships that a prime minister and a government will have, there is nothing that matters more to him than getting it right in terms of the relationship with Canada’s indigenous people and communities. That’s a very strong message to everybody around the cabinet table that this matters.”
With files from Kristy Kirkup