By Enzo DiMatteo
Amnesty International has added its voice to calls for the federal government to address anti-Black racism in policing and the justice system in Canada, including urging “significant reductions” in funding for law enforcement.
The human rights group’s Canadian chapter released a four-page open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair on Monday urging “transformative change addressing anti-Black racism.” And the need for the government “to act immediately to address this entrenched crisis.”
The letter, signed by Amnesty secretary-general Alex Neve and France-Isabelle Langlois, director general of Amnistie internationale Canada francophone, says rallies and vigils in Canada following the death of George Floyd in the U.S. have also highlighted “the realities of anti-Black racism and associated police violence in this country.
“These protests do not reflect a tangential concern that what happens in the United States, happens in Canada too. Rather it is a fundamental concern that this happens in Canada, has been happening for far too long, and it must end, full stop.”
Trudeau’s own stated and repeated acknowledgement of anti-Black racism, including his taking a knee at a protest in Ottawa on June 5, is cited in the letter.
“However,” the letter goes on to say, “with images of your Brownface and Blackface photos still fresh for Canadians, these gestures risk appearing to be empty when not accompanied by announcements of concrete change that will truly begin to tackle anti-Black racism in the country. That, of course, is what truly matters.”
Amnesty points out that many policing leaders continue to deny systemic racism exists, including RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, despite recent evidence of police brutality involving Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta. Video footage released last week shows RCMP officers tackling and punching the Indigenous leader—apparently unprovoked – after he was stopped for an expired licence plate in March.
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, the RCMP’s commanding officer in Alberta, defended the officers' action, asserting that, "I don't believe that racism is systemic through Canadian policing. I don't believe it's systemic through policing in Alberta.” Both Lucki and Zablocki have since backtracked.
But the incident isn’t the only one raising questions about the pervasiveness of police brutality in Canada.
Over the weekend, Metepenagiag First Nation member Rodney Levi was shot and killed by RCMP. And on June 4, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was also shot and killed by police in Edmundston, New Brunswick.
Amnesty’s letter does not mention the Toronto police custody death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Nor does it mention the police shooting death of D'Andre Campbell who was killed by Peel Regional Police after calling 911 for assistance on April 6.
But the letter does reference the 2016 review of the UN’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which carried out an extensive review of Canada.
The group’s report denounced what it described as the “structural racism that lies at the core of many Canadian institutions and the systemic anti-Black racism that continues to have a negative impact on the human rights situation.” The group’s findings noted in particular “clear evidence that racial profiling is endemic in the strategies and practices used by law enforcement.”
Amnesty is urging “wholesale transformation of policing to address the systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism that has long been at its core,” including the doubling of funding for Canada’s anti-racism strategy, the banning of the police practice of carding – which the letter notes Blair defended as Toronto police chief—and “significant reductions” in funding to law enforcement. The letter urges Blair "to demonstrate genuine personal commitment to these particular reforms."
Proposals listed by Amnesty also include the curtailing of the “militarization” of policing and banning facial recognition technology for the purposes of mass surveillance.
“Canadians have heard many expressions of dismay, regret and even outrage from politicians and police officials in recent days," Amnesty says. "Many leaders have taken a knee during protests. It is not always clear what motivates these public displays by leaders. The shameful reality is that there is already ample evidence that anti-Black racism and systemic racism exist in Canada, and countless indications of the immediate steps that can and must be taken to address it.”