Honourable senators, the Senate is resolved into a Committee of the Whole to consider the Government of Canada’s role in addressing anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and ending systemic racism.
Honourable senators, in a Committee of the Whole senators shall address the chair but need not stand. Under the Rules the speaking time is 10 minutes, including questions and answers, but, as ordered earlier this week, if a senator does not use all of his or her time, the balance can be yielded to another senator. As ordered by the Senate, the committee will receive the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth; the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development; and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and I would now invite them to enter, accompanied by their officials.
(Pursuant to the Order of the Senate, the Honourable Bardish Chagger, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen and the Honourable Bill Blair and their officials were escorted to seats in the Senate chamber.)
Ministers, welcome to the Senate. I would ask you to introduce your officials and to make your opening remarks of at most five minutes.
Hon. Bardish Chagger, P.C., M.P., Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth
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Honourable senators, we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples, meeting today to work together to help Canada embrace diversity and promote inclusion so we can eradicate systemic racism, including anti-black, anti-Indigenous and anti-Asian racism. This is both important and essential.
I’m here with my colleagues, the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
Also with me is Gina Wilson, Senior Associate Deputy Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth; Graham Flack, Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development Canada; and Rob Stewart, Deputy Minister of Public Safety Canada.
Recently, we have seen how concerned Canadians are about anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and racism against people of Asian origin. Across Canada, thousands of us have taken a knee to demand change and an end to systemic racism.
We have video footage and thousands of testimonials from Indigenous peoples, black Canadians, racialized people and religious minorities experiencing racism again and again. There is no avoiding the stark fact: Systemic racism and discrimination are issues in Canada. It is present in these hallways, in our institutions and agencies.
As the Prime Minister said, systemic racism is something that touches every corner of our country. We need everyone to pause and reflect upon the Canada that we want, and commit to actions and outcomes; I would like to assure you that I am. To build a truly inclusive Canada, every single one of us must step up and do what we can to make workplaces, communities and public spaces safer and more inclusive.
Madam Chair, to quote and amplify Senator Brian Francis’s important advice to every Canadian, “Allyship is a continuous journey of learning, understanding and action.” We all need to do the work. While the work ahead can be uncomfortable and daunting, failing to act is no longer an option.
My mandate letter is public. My responsibilities include working with every federal department, agency and minister, including the Public Service of Canada, to ensure that every decision is made with diversity and inclusion in mind. We are improving policies, initiatives and practices in our federal institutions, but these efforts need to be accelerated and, at a minimum, informed by lived experiences.
We unveiled Canada’s anti-racism strategy in June 2019. In October, the Anti-Racism Secretariat was established and Peter Flegel appointed the director.
The secretariat is engaging with all levels of government, civil society, Indigenous peoples and diverse communities, addressing, among other things, anti-black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Asian racism, as well as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Its goal is to identify systemic barriers and gaps in federal policies, programs and services; kick-start new initiatives; and develop further areas for action.
COVID-19 has impacted all segments of society. We also know that the pandemic has made racialized groups more vulnerable. To address this, the secretariat set up the government-wide equity-seeking communities and COVID-19 task force to ensure the federal response to COVID-19 is adapted to the needs of equity-seeking communities.
Our government recognizes that to effectively combat systemic racism, we must do so systematically. We must tackle the problem in its entirety by minimizing the blind spots. That is why I am working with all my colleagues, including Ministers Blair and Hussen, who are here today, and who are just as determined to eliminate racism.
One aspect of fighting systemic racism is better data and evidence. The lack of detailed disaggregated data, as well as its inconsistent collection, measurement, reporting and analysis, have been cited as underlying factors contributing to racism.
Canadian Heritage, along with Statistics Canada, Public Safety and Justice, are working together to better use data to understand and combat systemic racism. By demonstrating federal leadership, empowering communities, building awareness and changing attitudes, our government is taking action in building a lasting foundation for change. This plan is defined in our anti-racism strategy.
There’s a lot more work to do, and we are committed to doing the work as allies and partners with communities. Fighting systemic racism will make our country better, safer and stronger for everyone, full stop.
Madam Chair, honourable senators, together as leaders and as Canadians, we must keep at this until hopefully we arrive at a day when this conversation is no longer needed.
I want to thank you for having us here. I want to thank you for your attention and your leadership and commitment. I will be pleased to answer questions. I do apologize to anyone I have my back to.
Ministers, I hardly think that COVID-19 is the reason why we have racism in this country or anywhere else. It was here before, and unfortunately, very unfortunately, it is probably going to be here for a while after.
As you know, ministers, this Committee of the Whole was struck to examine the government’s role in fighting anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism. I find it very troubling — very troubling, indeed — that neither of our two ministers responsible for Indigenous affairs could bother to be here today, when we have it on good sources that they are in Ottawa and they are not in this chamber. That is a sad reflection of what their responsibility is towards this very serious issue. I’m going to focus my questions to the Minister of Public Safety.
Minister Blair, one month ago today in Minneapolis, George Floyd died while in police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck for some nine minutes, sparking protests around the world against police brutality and anti-black racism. This has led us and others to question some of our own policies, both current and historic, to see how our systems may be disproportionately affecting the black and the Indigenous populations.
Minister, earlier this week you said:
I define systemic racism as deficiencies in the system that give rise to different outcomes for different racial groups.
The practice of carding has been widely denounced as racist and discriminatory and, of course, this was a practice, minister, that you implemented in Toronto while serving as Chief of Police. Over the past several weeks, you have been asked repeatedly to apologize for this policy, yet you have refused.
Minister, will you apologize to the black community today? If not, how can Canadians have faith that this government has the capacity to combat systemic racism when the Minister of Public Safety cannot even acknowledge where it exists?
Hon. Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
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Thank you very much for the question, senator. If I may correct, when I said earlier in describing systemic racism, not racism, I talked about deficiencies in the broader system that give rise to disparate and disproportionate outcomes to racialized communities and Indigenous communities, particularly young black men.
With respect to the issue of carding, I would reference to the senator for his understanding of this issue that he perhaps might want to read Justice Michael Tulloch’s very comprehensive report that he completed for the Province of Ontario on street checks, in which he very clearly defined carding as an arbitrary activity not based on evidence or the law, rather on arbitrary activity.
I can tell you that throughout my entire tenure in Toronto, the stops that were made by the police in street checks — which are also done in every jurisdiction right across Canada — had to be based on evidence and the rule of law. I can tell you without equivocation that a stop that is based on bias or racism in any form is abhorrent, unacceptable and unlawful. It is contrary to section 5 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it’s also contrary to section 15 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Therefore, it is not acceptable.
I can also tell you — perhaps if we have more time, senator — about the number of initiatives undertaken in my police service and in my city, working in racialized and with racialized communities for almost 40 years, a number of very important steps that were taken to serve that community with respect and dignity, and to ensure that racism was never acceptable in my police service.
So frankly, your reference to carding, which is not what we were engaged in — it might benefit from a better understanding of what street checks are and what the rules are around them. Again, I think Justice Tulloch’s report could provide you with that better understanding.
I will be happy to read that report. I don’t think carding is acceptable, regardless of what reasons or excuses one uses.
I will just make a comment and an observation here. The RCMP commissioner, Brenda Lucki, the highest-ranking police officer in our country, has been undermined by the Prime Minister for admitting that she struggled with the definition of systemic racism before eventually acknowledging its existence within her organization. When his own minister Pablo Rodriguez denied the very existence of systemic racism, there was no comment from the Prime Minister. Likewise, when his Minister of Public Safety cannot acknowledge his own role in perpetuating systemic racism in our largest city, our Prime Minister is silent.
This past week, ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first Indigenous Justice Minister, who was fired because she dared challenge and stand up to the Prime Minister’s appalling and unethical behaviour, recounted her experience with this government. She stated that her ideas on criminal justice reform were met with paternalistic dismissal. Regardless of her experience, it became clear that she was seen as an Indigenous woman first.
I would strongly suggest that this Prime Minister stop patting himself on the back as a feminist when he has clearly demonstrated he has a problem with powerful and accomplished women. I would ask, ministers, that you take that message back to the Prime Minister and to your government.
With that, Madam Chair, I will yield the balance of my time to Senator Housakos.
Thank you. Minister Blair, I would like to follow up on the question my colleague asked regarding carding.
While dealing with legislation related to impaired driving and the legalization of marijuana by your government, our colleague Senator Batters put forth an amendment — and the Senate passed it — to guard against the systematically racist practice of carding by the police, but your government didn’t accept that amendment and instead cleared the way for police to return to this racist practice.
Minister, why was that? Whose decision was it not to accept the amendment? Was it yours, minister?
Thank you very much, senator. In response to your question, I will repeat that carding — which is an arbitrary stopping of a person not based on the law and not based on evidence and, therefore, without articulable cause — is not acceptable. It’s not only unacceptable, but it’s unlawful in Canada. Every police service has received that in their training, and within my police service, there was a very clear articulation of what circumstances must exist before any individual could be stopped.
In addition to making it very clear to those police officers, and all police officers, that any activity or decision by the police cannot be influenced by bias, that training also existed. It helped police officers to understand the impact that bias can have on their decision-making. There was also extensive training given to police officers to ensure they had that information.
When you suggest that we should make something unlawful that is already unlawful, sir, I would simply point out to you that decisions made by the police that are guided by bias or racism are already contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
I was not in cabinet at the time of that decision, so I have no understanding of how that determination was made. I can tell you that in my experience, the amendments put forward by the Senate are always given full and ample consideration out of respect for the role of this house.
My next question is for Minister Hussen. Minister, last week the Parliamentary Black Caucus released a substantial statement calling on all levels of government to address systemic racism. It’s a statement which, if given the opportunity, I would not have hesitated in signing. The statement calls for and outlines comprehensive, concrete measures that could be taken by your government.
Minister, what is the Trudeau government’s position on the list of recommendations? It would be helpful if you can specifically reference the recommendations, please, and what your government intends to do with them.
Ahmed Hussen, P.C., M.P., Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
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Thank you, ministers, for being here with us this afternoon to take part in this Committee of the Whole. We greatly appreciate it.
My first question is for Minister Blair. During discussions on Bill C-46, which was passed, it was mentioned that the government is required to conduct, within three years, a comprehensive review of the implementation and application of the provisions enacted by the act, including an evaluation of whether they have resulted in differential treatment of any particular group based on a prohibited ground of discrimination. What is the status of the report that has to be tabled in Parliament a year from now, before June 21, 2021, and how can the government conduct such an evaluation if its agents do not compile disaggregated data?
Thank you, senator, for what I believe is an important question. The issue of having race-based data has been a controversial one in our country for some period of time. I remember quite vividly back in the late 1980s that there were a number of incidents where such data that did exist was being badly misused to stigmatize minority and racialized populations. So at that time, there were a number of very significant restrictions put in place around its collection.
Its absence has caused a great deal of difficulty. If you can’t understand the disparate impact that the systems not only of justice but of health, education and housing, et cetera, are having on racialized populations or Indigenous populations, quite frankly, that information is valuable and essential to make good decisions.
There are challenges that I will acknowledge with respect to the collection of that data. I believe it’s absolutely essential that we begin to do a better job in this country of collecting race-based data, do it thoughtfully and carefully so it is not subject to misuse, and have that data to inform our decisions.
There are a number of datasets that can assist us in the collection of data with respect to the violation of prohibited grounds, most of those arising from police activity or activities in our courts, and some from complaints within the police service. But that information is not as valuable as it could be if there was a more comprehensive collection of race-based disaggregated data that would inform that decision.
I don’t have specifics. I apologize for where we are with that report. We know that within a year it has to be brought back to us. I also think it’s important with new legislation, especially legislation such as Bill C-46. That had some very important and new legislative authorities to help us control impaired driving on our streets and to save lives, but it’s very important that we have that review.
I will ensure that that information, as comprehensive as we are able to make it, is properly prepared and presented back to this house in the appropriate time.
My second question is for Minister Chagger and has to do with the possibility of creating a special joint committee because, as you know, systemic racism is an important issue for both chambers. In your view, should we create, through a motion adopted by both chambers, a special joint committee to implement the recommendations for eliminating systemic racism in Canada?
Thank you very much for your question. First of all, I want to thank you for your work and all your efforts to advance the dialogue in this chamber. I was one of the people who watched the debates. I know this is another step. I think a special committee could be created. In fact, I’ve been mandated to work jointly with the departments and agencies. I don’t think we can wait for legislation to be passed. We need to take action now. Each and every one of us can do things a little differently if we want a truly inclusive country. For me personally, this work began at a young age, and our government took action in that area during its first four years in office. I now have the opportunity to move this file forward, and I’m very proud to work collaboratively with you. The decision to create a new committee is the responsibility of this chamber and the other place. I want to work with anyone who wishes to make a difference and I will continue to participate in the discussions. I’m currently focusing my efforts on actions that will help us achieve the results we need.
My other question is for Minister Blair and concerns facial recognition technology. This technology misidentifies less than 1% of white males, but 35% to 38% of women of colour. Are we going to continue using this racist and sexist technology in Canada? Where is this data stored at present? Will we share this data with other countries?
Thank you. Regarding the question of technology such as facial recognition technologies, it’s important that we develop very strong regulatory frameworks around their use that recognizes the limitations of these technologies, as well as recognizing and respecting Canadians’ concerns and our laws with respect to privacy issues. There are some very significant matters that need to be addressed. There is currently work under way within the RCMP for the development of appropriate regulatory controls for the use of that data, but it’s being done very much in cooperation and collaboration with our privacy officials, both federal and provincial, because that’s important.
The sharing of data internationally is also strictly controlled. Frankly, Canada’s laws with respect to privacy interests are stronger than those within those nations with whom we generally share criminal intelligence information and national security information. We will make sure that our laws are always respected in those decisions. There’s a great deal of work to do with regard to these emerging technologies to ensure that they are used when appropriate, in a responsible way, and that there is an acknowledgment and awareness of its limitations and accuracy, particularly as it may affect different racialized groups.
Thank you. I have another question for you. Minister, given that body cameras are very expensive — it costs about $100 a month to archive the video and about $1,000 to purchase a camera — can you tell us if the millions of dollars to be invested will come directly from the RCMP’s current budgets, which total approximately $3.7 billion?
Yes, senator. Let me first speak to the technology. The technology has been evolving fairly significantly. I’ve been involved in a number of pilot programs with local municipal police services utilizing this technology. Calgary, for example, uses them widely within their municipality. But that technology has been evolving, particularly storage.
In the pilots previously done by the RCMP, there was a particular challenge with the technology and the cost of storing the data that is produced, because we also have a requirement that the data would be kept for a certain period of time. There are some emerging technologies, particularly cloud technologies, that have significantly reduced the price of that storage. We’re mindful of the cost. At the present time, there is no budgetary ask in place for these cameras, but we’ve made a commitment. We see that they can have real value.
I’ve had a number of important conversations with Indigenous leadership and Indigenous communities, and there is a strong desire to have greater accountability and the use of body cameras in those jurisdictions, so we’re working hard to do that.
I wish to be very careful with the taxpayers’ money and make sure every investment we make is an investment in public value and public safety, so we’ll be very thoughtful about how we bring that forward.
Mr. Blair, policies have been implemented in the United States, such as the 8 Can’t Wait campaign, to deal with the inappropriate conduct of police forces. Can our government tell us if there have been any changes to our policies on the reasonable use of force by police? How is reasonable use of force defined?
I think we have seen an evolution in that as well in policing in Canada. The requirements for use of force training and the use of force models that are in place in Canada are very reflective of Canadian values and Canadian communities and Canadian law.
But what I think is very important is that all use of force models should begin with —
“Intentional acts of racism are clearly a breach of human rights and looked upon as despicable by any decent person, though we have had our challenges in this very chamber.
“The protests in response to the recent murder of George Floyd are not the first to rock the United States. As for Canada, we have documented the overt racial practices enacted by the Canadian state toward Indigenous peoples. We also know this intentional racism continues to affect Indigenous peoples, as made evident in the findings of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, among other areas.
“My question touches on a more nebulous problem. A 1993 Ontario Human Rights decision states how, unlike intentional discrimination, unintentional discrimination may be less clear. Often it involves acting upon internalized prejudices, regardless of whether the prejudice is consciously appreciated as such by the actor.
“How will the government structurally create a framework that addresses the racism against Indigenous peoples and black men and women in this country — one in part that they are responsible for cultivating — while at the same time root out all forms of discrimination, whether they are intended or not?”
I’ll do my best to answer that. I’ve actually worked in highly racialized communities for most of my adult life, working with the police in those areas. In Canada, racism tends not to be explicitly expressed by very many people. It’s just simply unacceptable in our society, but it can be implicit and even unconscious. The impact is nonetheless devastating on the people being victimized by it. It’s important to recognize that.
Implicit bias can influence decisions within a number of systems — the health system, housing, employment, education and in the criminal justice system. There needs to be much greater awareness and lack of acceptance of it.
The very first places we need to begin as a people is to acknowledge, recognize and respect the lived experience of Indigenous Canadians, racialized Canadians and young black men who, in their lived experience, have experienced that discrimination, bias and racism. We need to listen very carefully to that lived experience, acknowledge it, and acknowledge that there are things that we need to do better.
There are individual acts of misconduct that can happen, for example, in policing. We have systems in place to detect, prosecute and punish those individual acts of misconduct, but quite frankly, only dealing with individuals when you have a much broader systemic problem just perpetuates the problem. We’ve seen evidence of that.
So I think we need to also, as a society, stop and reflect on the broader systemic racism and discrimination that exists within our society and begin to address it.
My second question is for Minister Blair. I’m asking this on behalf of Regional Chief Ghislain Picard from the Justice portfolio from the Assembly of First Nations.
He would like to know, “With regard to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, strong federal leadership is required to undertake the essential reforms and cultural change required to dismantle overt and systemic racism. The fear and mistrust among First Nations is palpable and increasing. While a new co-developed legislative framework recognizing First Nations policing as an essential service is a necessary first step, more still needs to be done, especially with regard to reforms within the RCMP.
“Minister Blair, will you commit to undertake a review and make changes to the RCMP Act to establish a stronger and more robust civilian oversight mechanism that addresses complaints in a timely manner; establish zero tolerance policies on the use of excessive force; mandatory training on enhanced de-escalation and unconscious biases; higher recruitment standards for officers; more robust supports for mental health, substance abuse and youth; the possibility of an elders advisory council; the collection and sharing of race-based disaggregated data; the recruitment and promotion of First Nations within the RCMP; and the mandatory use of body cameras for officers?”
While they want a written response to this, and we will provide you with the vice chiefs that you will need to respond, they wanted you to comment verbally as well.
I can also tell you that I have recently spoken to Regional Chief Picard and Regional Chief Teegee, both of whom represent their Justice portfolio on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations. I’ve also spoken, of course, to the national chief and all of the regional chiefs bilaterally and collectively on this issue. I’ve reached out to them and I’ve asked them for their help in co-producing a new legislative framework for Indigenous policing, which is recognized as an essential service. Indigenous policing can have a number of different components. It can involve, for example, the RCMP. It could also involve Indigenous-led First Nations policing services. It can have community safety officers, special constables; it has a number of different components.
I think it’s important that the nations and their leadership define the policing they want and need in their communities.
All of the things that you have read to me from Chief Picard, I agree with. They are all necessary. My answer is yes, I absolutely commit to working on those things, but more importantly I want to commit to Chief Picard and to you that we’re not going to do that in isolation. We’re going to do that with the Indigenous leadership in this country that recognizes, acknowledges and respects their jurisdiction.
I think good policing requires good governance, and empowering the nations and their leadership to provide that governance, to have a say on how they will be policed and by whom they will be policed, and to ensure that the police officers in those communities are knowledgeable, culturally competent and respectful of the people whom they’re there to serve. In order to do that, you have to make sure you’re careful hiring, but also in your training, supervision and holding people to account where they engage in misconduct. There has to be sure, certain and serious consequences for misconduct.
Policing is a very important and essential activity in every community, and every community deserves professional, respectful and competent policing services.
I think we can do better than the current model. That’s why we’ve made a commitment to develop a new legislative framework for Indigenous policing in this country, because it begins with the law. We are going to do that in partnership, collaboration and consultation with the Indigenous leadership in this country.
To Minister Chagger and Minister Hussen, thanks to all three ministers for being here today. I know this is a difficult time in government and I certainly appreciate the hard work provided by the government, but in particular the federal public service as they continue to respond to Canadians’ needs.
Can you advise if there has been a change to your mandate letter from the Prime Minister? I think one of you referred to your mandate letter being changed to respond to the unique challenges currently faced by people in Canada’s black and Indigenous communities. If there has been a change, can you advise what those changes are? If not, can you tell us what you see as the path forward to try to improve some of these community challenges? In particular, I’m thinking of providing youth in those communities with the needed resources, both from a health perspective and from a forward-looking education one?
Thank you very much for that important question. It is not a coincidence that Minister Chagger and I are here before you as the two ministers whose mandate letters make a commitment to further the government’s goal of meeting the requirements of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, which Canada signed through the commitment of the Prime Minister.
The question that you asked is broad but, at the same time, narrow. You talked about more opportunities for black youth. That is precisely why we moved forward with the $9 million fund for black youth — to create more opportunities for African-Canadian youth. It is a multi-pronged approach.
We have to make sure that our supports to businesses include black Canadians and other racialized communities, and especially Indigenous communities. We need to make sure that we increase the capacity of black community organizations to be able to deliver services by and for black Canadians, and we’re doing that with the $25 million fund to increase capacity and build infrastructure. We have moved ahead with the Canadian Institute for People of African Descent. I would submit to you, senator, that my mandate letter hasn’t changed: it was already reflective of the government’s ambition and desire to move forward with all these issues to combat systemic racism and make sure that black Canadians are included more in our programming.
Thank you for the question, and I will build upon the comments of Minister Hussen.
Until the decision-making table changes, and until our institutions change or are at least informed by lived experiences, the outcomes will not change. The issue has been highlighted, but this is an issue that has been around since long before time. I believe that the transformation of the Senate over the last several years is part of the reason we have been invited here and this conversation is taking place during late sittings. This is an emergency. This is a conversation we must have, but it will take more than legislation; it will require a change in attitudes. We recognize there are people across our country who still don’t realize that systemic racism and discrimination is real. It is. That is no longer up for debate; it is a fact.
My mandate letter has not changed, but we will be building upon it. The mandate letter has been strengthened by the will of Canadians from coast to coast to coast in saying that enough is enough. We will demand change. That is why I have focused on actions and outcomes in measuring what is taking place and making sure we are informed by better, evidence-based information to ensure the programs we bring about actually work for the very people we are here to serve.
The next question is for either of you. I used to be the police chief here in Ottawa, and one of the biggest challenges found in our new-Canadian or refugee community was the fact that parents, in particular, found there were limited supports for children after coming from very difficult situations. Often they would find themselves on a list in our provincial health care system looking for support when it came to, for example, mental health.
Instead of pushing them onto the provincial health care system immediately upon arrival in Canada, is the government giving consideration to keeping them in a system where they have early or immediate access to mental health or other health care facilities that may be outside of the norm, at least for the short term?
Thank you, senator, for that very important question on the integration of refugees. In addition to Canada being a global leader in the western hemisphere for a second year in a row for resettling the most refugees in the west, we also lead in terms of integration of refugees, but also newcomers in general. Part of that is the federal government’s investments in community resettlement efforts through organizations. The programming in language, training, mental health supports and in many other integration efforts are not done by the government: they are done by community organizations that are trusted, local and knowledgeable. That has served us well.
In the last number of years, what has been highlighted is the need for more progress in the resettlement of refugees in the area of mental health supports. That is definitely something that has been highlighted, and our government has made many efforts to increase the capacity of local communities to do that, especially when it comes to particular sets of refugees who have endured unimaginable trauma, like the Yazidi refugees from Northern Iraq fleeing genocide. That support has included setting up community-based networks to strengthen the deployment of mental health professionals, as well as translators and other networks to settle those refugees in a way that is paced and ensures that there are wraparound social and psychological supports available. That is always possible. I believe that is an area in which the federal government’s leadership will always be sought by local communities.
Thank you, minister. Respectfully, I can say that the communities still feel that not enough is provided.
I have a question for Minister Blair. Police forces throughout North America and, more importantly, across Canada have been testing various facial recognition technologies. Significant privacy concerns have been raised, and I understand the RCMP is working with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to create guidelines for their use. When can we expect the completion of that work? More importantly, is or should the government consider legislation to regulate or monitor the use of such technology by policing agencies in Canada?
Thank you very much for the question, senator. As we know, facial recognition, as well as a number of other significant emerging technologies, is available in other parts of the world. The RCMP and police services in this country benefit from a strong regulatory approach in the use of these technologies. We have strong legislation with respect to privacy protection, and it’s one of the reasons we are working so closely with the privacy commissioners, both federally and provincially, on ensuring that that there is a strong regulatory framework around an acknowledgement of those privacy concerns regarding the use of any of these technologies. It’s appropriate and necessary to provide that guidance to law enforcement to ensure that all such technologies are used, where necessary, in the public interest, but always in respect of Canadian law and of Canadians’ privacy interests.
Minister Chagger, you mentioned actions and outcomes, and I’m glad to hear that. This is the place of sober second thought. If we invite you back here one year from now — and I hope we do — what are the two measurable things you will tell us you have actually accomplished? Keep in mind that we will read those back to you a year from now.
I’m going to come back with more than two things, and I will tell you it will take a whole-of-government approach and a whole-of-Canada approach. We have seen the will of Canadians to step up and demand better, and we will do better. I want to highlight some of the programs we have put in place.
When it comes to the $9 million fund related to communities supporting communities, that money has gone to 56 projects and organizations. Over the course of the next two years, we will be able to see the outcomes of that work, and we will know if it is working or if it needs to be revisited. We had a $10 million fund for culturally sensitive supports for mental health in black communities. Of that $10 million, $5.3 million has been shared.
Honourable senators, my first question is for Minister Blair, on behalf of my colleague Senator Simons, representing Alberta.
Minister Blair, in recent weeks, we’ve read tragic stories from across Canada of Indigenous, black and South Asian Canadians who were experiencing mental health crises and who were killed after police responded to check on them. In Edmonton, for more than a decade, the Edmonton Police Service has assigned embedded officers who are based at a mental health clinic at a downtown hospital. Each officer works full time with a partner who is either a psychologist, a psychiatric nurse or a social worker trained in dealing with mental illness. Together, these eight integrated police and crisis response teams, who travel in unmarked cars, respond to wellness checks and mental health and addiction crisis calls, and de-escalate such situations safely. They respond to 700 calls a month, with few incidents of violence.
More recently, Alberta Health Services has also begun partnering with two embedded RCMP officers from K-Division in Edmonton on a similar model.
Given the potential for violent and fatal outcomes when police officers alone respond to mental health calls, especially when the person involved is Indigenous or a member of a visible minority, would you consider encouraging the RCMP across the country to embrace a similar integrated-response model?
I can advise you that in 2002, I implemented the first medical crisis intervention teams in Canada, in Toronto. As chief, we established 36 teams of a police officer and a mental health nurse working together as team. I can tell you that produces excellent outcomes for the people we serve who are in crisis.
Unfortunately, 30 teams — and it sounds like a lot of people, but in Toronto, just as an example — and I only use it as an example because it’s the one with data I am most familiar with — they answer about 30,000 calls a year for those who are often referred to as “emotionally disturbed persons,” many of those in a mental health crisis or emotional disturbance. Those situations, overwhelmingly — 99.9% of the time — are resolved through de-escalation and appropriate intervention. The best outcomes were with the medical crisis intervention teams.
Unfortunately, some of those calls also began as being about a person with a knife, for example. It is a dangerous situation to send untrained personnel, like a nurse, into that situation.
There are a number of ways in which the police respond. I acknowledge to you that some of those recently — and not just recently — also ended in tragedy. So it is essential that the police receive the training they need.
I am in complete agreement of the use of such integrated teams. There are many discussions taking place around the world, certainly in North America, including in Canada, on issues of defunding the police, for example. I think what people are really talking about is finding better ways to respond to these critical situations that the police, with all their training and tools, may not be the most appropriate response, but they are the only available response. If they are the only ones at three o’clock in the morning to respond to such calls, they take their training, tools and limitations.
Through training, proper equipment and other means, we can continue to provide a safer response to these critical incidents.
I would commend to the senator that, in the aftermath of a similar tragic situation where a young man was shot to death by the police in my city, I contacted then-retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci and asked him to do a very comprehensive study into how the police respond to people in crisis. He provided a remarkable report that identifies a number of significant things that can and should be done. He made approximately 74 recommendations, as I recall, to the Toronto Police Service while I was the chief, and we implemented all of those. I have shared that with the RCMP leadership in this country. I have also shared it with every other police service in Canada, because I think there is value. There are lessons to be learned, and we must do better.
Honourable senators, my second question is for Minister Chagger, on behalf of Senator Deacon, representing Nova Scotia.
Visible minorities represent over 22% of Canada’s population, and Indigenous peoples represent nearly 5%. Despite this, according to the 2017 Survey on Financing and Growth of Small and Medium Enterprises, only 12% of small businesses are majority-owned by people belonging to visible minorities and only 1% by Indigenous persons. Advancing entrepreneurship in Indigenous and racialized communities is a proven way to create sustainable opportunity, jobs and prosperity where there has traditionally been limited access to all three.
Visible minorities and Indigenous people face systemic barriers due to generational wealth gaps, underrepresentation in business networks, as well as systemic and even algorithm bias.
Minister Chagger, in your current role and as former Minister of Small Business, can you speak to what your government will be doing to advance entrepreneurship programs and success in marginalized communities?
Thank you for that very important question. That is exactly why the conversations that are taking place will have to be whole-of-government and multi-pronged. There are inequities in our system.
One thing established by the Anti-Racism Secretariat in response to COVID-19, which I mentioned in my opening comments, was the task force in regard to equity-seeking communities. Minister Ng and I have been working closely when it comes to those opportunities, not only for small businesses but to look at the COVID-19 response and who benefited from them. The questions I have been asking and expecting responses to — and I feel I will get them — were: Who was applying; who was qualifying; and who is getting through the door? That’s in terms of our appointments, within our systems, or in grants and contributions. At every single level, we need to look at who is applying, who is being considered and who is receiving those grants and contributions, or the loans for small businesses.
I am confident that your stats are correct. It will take a small business lens to ensure we are lifting people up.
One thing I did as Small Business Minister was to bring in the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. We knew our stats when it came to women entrepreneurs. We knew that women-owned businesses were 9% of all businesses in Canada, and 15.7% of those businesses exported. We put an emphasis on that. We also encouraged procurement through the Government of Canada. Most recently, we have announced a procurement strategy for Indigenous-owned businesses, and there is no reason we cannot continue to push this further.
This is about equity and the hand up. There are also economic injustices in our country, so I can promise you the mandate letter commitment that I have, to work with all departments and agencies, is one that I wake up to every morning and is the last thing I think about.
So, yes, when it comes to what you’re referring to, work is underway.
I will highlight that we are working with communities. We are informed by what communities are asking. That’s why we are saying — even with the $25-million fund that Minister Hussen referred to — it will be black-run organizations distributing that money to make sure it goes to community organizations that will have the greatest impact.
To the three ministers, thank you very much for joining us to listen to our extremely important concerns about this fundamental issue for our society. I’m speaking on behalf of my colleague, Senator Keating. My question is for Minister Blair.
Minister, in early June, you said that you would not in any time accept any potential misconduct of police officers. It’s one thing to condemn inappropriate behaviour from certain people, but it’s another thing to admit that systemic racism has infiltrated the relationship between Indigenous people and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In light of the sheer number of incidents that have taken place lately, do you acknowledge that the structure of the RCMP is not impartial? Are you prepared to overhaul the organization, including by creating an oversight mechanism that is fully independent and isn’t designed by the organization being overseen?
Thank you, senator. Your question raises some very important issues. I will try to quickly respond to them.
First of all, I want to be very clear that neither I, nor the Commissioner of the RCMP nor their leadership tolerates racism or misconduct. I think it’s a strongly held value of the RCMP. They are public servants, and they are there to serve and protect. Their greatest duty is to preserve life, to serve the communities with respect and with professionalism.
But they also recognize that individuals may be involved in misconduct. The commissioner has acknowledged that. There is always room for improvement, but those are very much the values held by the RCMP and with which I agree.
You also raise the very important issue of systemic racism. Systemic racism is a separate issue. It is not less of an issue, but it is a separate issue from the individual misconduct of police officers working within the RCMP or any other police service. What we’re looking at there are the circumstances that give rise to disproportionate and disparate outcomes for Indigenous people, for example.
If I may give an example, decisions are made with respect to post-arrest release, either on recognizance or bail. Some of the systemic ways in which it is determined that a person is suitable for release can include their housing status, whether they are homeless, whether they are employed, whether they have roots and ties within the community, if they access to certain services and supports that they may require. We know, within our society, for many Indigenous people, the social conditions that may give rise to their arrest in the first instance can also be consistent with them not being as eligible as someone in a different circumstance to gain access to bail or release on recognizance. Systemically, that results in a disproportionate number of Indigenous people being incarcerated pre-conviction and making it more difficult for them to obtain bail.
Those are systemic issues that we need to address and look at. It is necessary, within the system, to keep people safe but, at the same time, when it has a disparate impact on racialized communities and Indigenous people, it means we have to go back and look hard at the system. Are there ways we can change it to create more equitable, fair and appropriate outcomes for all Canadians?
That is different from the individual conduct, which can never be acceptable. If someone is engaged in racist and inappropriate conduct, they must be held to account for that. There must be serious consequences for that. But there is additional work that we must do to ensure that the criminal justice system, writ large but including the police as an important component, is not engaged in decision making or conduct that results in inequitable outcomes for any part of our population and, in particular, racialized or Indigenous communities.
Thank you. My second question is from Senator Dupuis, who is a long-time human rights advocate. She has questions for each of the three ministers about their values and commitment. Earlier you mentioned section 15 of the Constitution Act, 1982. This is the strongest, most robust act we have, because it recognizes that everyone is entitled to equal protection and equal benefit, free from discrimination of any kind. Section 15 sets out a clear process for combatting the direct and systemic discrimination most often experienced by people in racialized groups. The government and Parliament therefore have the tools they need to take real action and address this scourge. Are you, as individuals, prepared to commit to having your government and this Parliament pass legislation and implement programs and activities designed to improve the situation for individuals or groups who are at a disadvantage, with respect to their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, or sex, as set out in subsection 15(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? The question is for the three ministers. Minister Chagger, as a courtesy, perhaps you could go first?
I just want to quickly say that we have a plan, specifically Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy. This plan was created by Canadians to ensure that our government can create a foundation for making the necessary changes. Yes, it is true that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects everyone, but, as we can see today, that’s not really the case. We therefore have a lot of work to do. I think that we need to listen to people and hear their stories. We don’t need to see the videos to know that the stories people are sharing are real. I think that all of that has to be validated, that these people shared their stories, and we need to look at how we can improve our systems and decide what can help us do better. If the decision makers do not change, then the outcomes will not change either. I am going to try to change the voices that are heard and represented.
You point out a very important point. We as a country have to live up to the values enshrined in our Charter and the spirit behind that section, which is that people must have equality not only in terms of treatment but equality in outcomes.
We have to strive for that. It’s an aspirational goal. To the extent that I can talk about the lived reality of far too many Canadians who are Indigenous, who are black, who are racialized, that reality is not there. That aspiration has not been met for them. The comprehensive answer that I will give is that, of course, you need legislation, you need policies, you need regulations. You need leadership that is definitive and deliberate about the measures that we take. You need to back that up with resources. You need to follow the evidence. And you need to educate those in positions of responsibility, whether in law enforcement or the health care sector or education or anywhere else, that systemic racism is debilitating for far too many Canadians. We have to live up to our values to make sure that reality is no longer the case by dismantling systemic racism as it manifests itself in different aspects of our society.
I second the comments made by my colleague Minister Chagger that we have to listen to the fact that for far too many Canadians, their reality is distinctly different from what is expressed in section 15 of the Charter.
I came before this Senate a few years ago when I spoke about the Cannabis Act. We had identified that the enforcement of the cannabis laws in this country had a significant and disproportionate impact on racialized Canadians. They were far more likely to be charged and to suffer far greater consequences through the enforcement of that law.
In changing that law and the way its regulations are enforced, we changed the systemic disparity that existed, the systemic racism that existed, in the way cannabis laws were being enforced in this country. By changing those laws, we changed those circumstances and created better circumstances and better outcomes for racialized Canadians.
Thank you. The question is for Minister Chagger. I will briefly touch on a topic we have not discussed — business in corporate Canada. Minister, can you tell us what concrete measures you are taking to diversify corporate Canada? Has your government considered establishing a new department of diversity within the public service to help Canadian businesses foster more inclusive work environments?
Senator, there is no idea that our government would not consider. The former government leader in the Senate knows me well when it comes to amendments. There are definitely things that are debated, and I have all the time for new ideas. One thing we have been doing that I can speak to is the open, transparent, merit-based appointment process where the federal government has the ability to make Governor-in-Council appointments. We have seen somewhat of a transformation in who is being appointed.
I come back to the point that when the decision-making table reflects the diversity of our country, actions and outcomes will also be impacted for the better.
When it comes to the Business Development Bank of Canada — and the list goes on — yes, we are definitely diversifying the decision-making table. We are asking the right questions as to who is applying, who should we be considering, where are we looking for recruits, where are we sharing the programs and services that are available? Because if we keep doing the same old, same old, the outcome will be same. I’m not going to be here for too long, so I want to make sure my time is noted, and that we have actions and outcomes and deliverables for Canadians. They demand it and they should get it.
I would add one last point in terms of the public service during my time here and prior to that.
I have noticed some progress has been made in terms of making sure that the Canadian public service, which is an example of a globally leading public service, is reflective of Canada.
I think some progress has been made to aspire to that, but there’s absolutely a lot more work that needs to be done to make sure that the Canadian public service, which is the best in the world, can be even better by being more diverse and actually reflect Canada and the Canadians that they serve.
I have and we have the privilege of being present in person for today’s sitting, but as we look around at each other, I can’t help but think of all the missing faces in this chamber who might wish to participate in this very important debate.
You heard me deliver the words of my honourable colleagues Senator Lovelace Nicholas and Senator Lillian Dyck earlier this week, and I wish to do the same today. There’s a bit of a preamble here, but I think it’s important. This question to Minister Blair comes from my esteemed colleague Senator Dyck with a supplementary. In the words of Senator Dyck:
Recently, in March, Allan Adam, Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and his wife were stopped by police in Fort McMurray; the licence plate on his truck had expired. What should have been a relatively routine check turned into a brutal encounter for Chief Adam.
The RCMP dashcam video shows one police officer tackling Chief Adam without any warning, punching him in the head and applying a CAROTID hold. A photograph of Chief Adam’s badly battered face afterwards has shocked and shook the nation. Chief Adam stated, “Every time our people do wrong . . . (the RCMP) always seem to use excessive force and that has to stop.”
Chief Adam’s experience is an example of systemic racism by the RCMP.
The sad reality is that Indigenous men, like Indigenous women, face a greater risk of being met with violence.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, for example, the homicide rate for Indigenous men was 5 times greater than it was for non-Indigenous men.
These data are also evidence of systemic racism against Indigenous men.
It has been reported that in Saskatchewan 62% of people killed by police were Indigenous. And yet, as you know, Indigenous people represent only about 15% of the SK population. These data too are evidence of systemic racism against Indigenous people.
Mr. Blair, systemic racism has been the topic of much discussion in the last two weeks, especially after Commissioner Lucki struggled to answer whether or not it existed in the RCMP and then the next day decided that indeed it did. So it was completely surprising that Commissioner Lucki was unable to provide a correct example of systemic racism when she appeared two days ago at the meeting of the House of Commons Public Safety Committee on systemic racism.
As an Indigenous woman, I was floored by her lack of insight and knowledge. She mentioned the National Inquiry Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls, so she could have easily said that the denial by the RCMP for many years of the tragedy of MMIWG was an example of systemic racism. And then she could have said but that’s in the past, the RCMP now recognize the Indigenous women are more likely to be murdered and made missing. And that the RCMP now collect data on the Aboriginal identity and gender of homicide victims which they submit to Statistics Canada. But she didn’t.
Furthermore when she said that only 0.073% of RCMP investigations are lethal, she could have said, the over-representation of blacks, Indigenous people and other racialized minoritie, among those who are unnecessarily beaten or killed by the RCMP is an example of systemic racism in the RCMP. But she didn’t.
As a Canadian citizen, I was embarrassed that our Commissioner was not able to provide an example of systemic racism in the RCMP, when it has been THE topic across the country in the last couple of weeks.
This is simply unacceptable job performance.
As you know, I have called for Commissioner Lucki to resign or to be replaced.
Minister Blair, it is your responsibility to hold Commissioner Lucki to account, and it is also your responsibility to fix things that are wrong in the workings of the RCMP.
Senator Dyck’s question, to which Canadians across the country deserve an answer, is two-fold:
It’s even more clear now that Commissioner Lucki does not understand systemic racism. Minister Blair, how can she get rid of it when she doesn’t know what it is?
When Senator Dyck expressed her initial concerns, I reached out to her right away. I called her and we spent considerable time on the phone. I have a great deal of respect for her perspective and her concerns.
I met with Commissioner Lucki about those concerns the day following the difficult interview that she had. I don’t give her operational decisions, but we did discuss at some length the RCMP and her responsibilities and my responsibilities. I would concur with you, sir — the commissioner runs the RCMP, but I am responsible for ensuring that the RCMP fulfills its legislative responsibilities and the commissioner does her job.
So I’ve had a number of conversations with her. I will tell you, sir, I respectfully disagree. I believe Commissioner Lucki does understand systemic racism. We’ve had a number of conversations. If I may — and I make no excuses for anyone — but I’ve been involved in this discussion, race relations and policing and the sometimes fraught relationship that can exist between the police and racialized communities and Indigenous communities across this country. Commissioner Lucki is not the first and not alone in finding difficulty in using the right words. But I also try to look at what’s in a person’s heart and what she’s trying to achieve.
When we hired Commissioner Lucki and appointed her to that position two years ago, we gave her a very significant responsibility: to reform a number of different significant aspects of the culture, the policies, the procedures and the training of the RCMP. She has worked diligently on that. I’ve worked side by side with her, and I’ve seen how hard she worked. I have met with her and her senior command team.
I believe they are intent on trying to do the right things. But Senator Dyck is quite correct in that more needs to be done. We should all be judged not just by our words but by our actions.
I believe — and I am very mindful of my responsibility, senator, to ensure that the actions of the RCMP and in particular the actions of the commissioner are what is necessary to serve all Canadians with the dignity, respect and equity that everyone is entitled to.
That very much is work that we are committed to doing and will continue to do. I think there were a number of examples that I believe the commissioner could have shared. Frankly, I’ve become, through experience, perhaps a little bit more at ease in discussing this. I did share with the commissioner my own experience.
As we discussed systemic racism in policing and in the communities the RCMP serve, systemic racism, not just in policing in the RCMP but in the entire criminal justice system and in our society, I can assure you that the commissioner demonstrated to me a very deep and profound understanding of that and, more importantly, a real commitment to do the hard work that is necessary to make a difference.
Again, senator, I would ask that we be judged on our actions. We are prepared to act and do what is necessary to address not just the individual misconduct — and Senator Dyck made reference to Chief Adam. I’ve reached out to the Regional Chief of Alberta as well as the national leadership. It’s quite apparent to me that there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done there. We’re prepared to do that work.
Thank you, minister. I think you anticipated Senator Dyck’s second question, but I still, on her behalf, have to ask it:
What are you doing right now — right now — to hold Commissioner Lucki to account for her lack of knowledge about systemic racism? What actions have you taken now — what managerial or ministerial directives have you issued to her?
A number of things, sir, that I think are relevant. We have had a number of discussions. We’ve appeared before committee, but we’ve also met on a number of occasions to discuss the path forward and how to respond appropriately.
There are a number of allegations that are currently under investigation. I’ve also reached out to the Commissioner of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission because I think that that’s a very important function of independent oversight of the complaints process.
I’ve listened very carefully to Canadians across the country who have expressed concern about those investigations and, in particular, about the timelessness of response. I think when people make a complaint, they need a timely resolution of that complaint. They need to be kept informed of the investigation and the actions to be taken. I believe that the current legislation around the CRCC and the RCMP does not provide clear direction on timelines.
I will tell you that I’m working with my officials, the RCMP and the CRCC to clearly articulate timelines where the RCMP and the CRCC will be required to resolve these matters in a timely way. Right now it says as soon as feasible. That’s not acceptable. I think we need to be clear with Canadians. I’ve met with some of the families. In particular, I’ve met with the family of Colten Boushie —
My first few questions are from Senator Moodie. They are for Minister Chagger.
Systemic racism is the daily lived reality of millions of Canadians. In 2019, your government unveiled Canada’s anti-racism strategy as part of the $45 million effort to address systemic racism and discrimination in our federal institutions, empower racialized communities, religious minorities and Indigenous Peoples and to increase awareness of the historical roots of racism and discrimination.
While I applaud the intent and the ambition of this initiative, I do have some concerns:
First, the existence, as well as the scope of the work, of the Anti-Racism Secretariat does not seem well known.
Second, the $45 million seems to me like not a lot of money to tackle such a big issue as addressing systemic racism and discrimination in our federal institutions, let alone achieving all the other goals of the Anti-Racism Secretariat.
My question to you, minister, is twofold: What kind of work has the Anti-Racism Secretariat engaged in since its inception and can you please provide concrete examples to the chamber?
Thank you, senator. I want to start off by commending Senator Moodie for her leadership and the great work she’s done. Senator Moodie is one of those people who has become very comfortable with being uncomfortable because changes need to be made, so I do want to put on the record that we appreciate her leadership. I know I do.
We know that systemic racism is real and prevalent, even in Canada. Our government is committed to fighting racism, including systemic racism and discrimination. In Budget 2018, we allocated $9 million to support black youth through the Black Canadian Youth Initiative. We supported 56 projects that are addressing the unique challenges faced by black Canadian youth.
We are moving forward with the investment of $25 million to support projects and capital assistance for black Canadian communities. Just last month, we announced the intermediary recipients who will be distributing the funds. Applications will open this Friday. Applications will be received and funds will be distributed by Tropicana Community Services, Black Business Initiative and Le Groupe 3737.
The Anti-Racism Secretariat has been hard at work since its establishment in October 2019. They hold regular informal and formal consultations, town halls and round tables with equity-seeking groups to ensure their voices are heard at the table.
As part of the Anti-Racism Secretariat’s response to COVID-19, they are co-chairing the interdepartmental equity-seeking communities and COVID-19 task force. The task force provides an ongoing forum for federal institutions and grassroots organizations to share information, identify gaps and target our COVID-19 response so that racialized communities, including reiterating the need for disaggregated data, is being considered in the decision making.
Peter Flegel is the Director of the Anti-Racism Secretariat. On numerous occasions now where I have been invited to speak, I have brought him forward as a resource. I hear the point that not everyone knows about it. We are going to make sure people know. I have now decided to start repeating the same thing over and over again because it works, and I will do it.
With respect to the $45 million comment, I want to say that yes, resources are necessary, but money alone is not going to fix systemic racism. That’s why, if you look at the anti-racism strategy, it’s about federal leadership. We have a role to play. The Prime Minister has been working with the premiers of provinces and territories, and today I understand that they actually issued a joint statement. That is a commitment. Now we need to hold them to account to ensure actions and outcomes will take place.
So yes, money needs to be available and, yes, we will fight for more resources. As the federal departments and agencies start using the Anti-Racism Secretariat as a stop on the path to decision making, we will ensure that they are resourced. It is something that is on my agenda. With your voices, we can ensure that it happens.
We all have unconscious biases, and those biases permeate our institutions ranging from our schools to the criminal justice system. Thankfully, studies have shown that with proper awareness and training we can overcome them.
Your government introduced earlier this year Bill C-5, which would make it mandatory for newly appointed judges to take courses on sexual assault law and get their commitment to “participate in continuing education on matters related to sexual assault, the law and social context”.
As the Minister responsible for the government of Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, my understanding is that one of the primary goals of the Strategy is to address systemic racism and discrimination in our federal institutions.
Minister Chagger, I would like to know if you think unconscious bias training can benefit federal judges and whether you’re intent to work with, or are working with, the Minister of Justice to make sure this important training is part of their curriculum?
I want to thank you for that important question. I will start by acknowledging that I have unconscious bias. I have a lot more to learn, and I don’t know what I don’t know. We all have our own unconscious biases and often bring them into our daily interactions with people in our immediate environment, be it friends or colleagues. I think recognizing that we all have work to do is part of the challenging conversation we’re having. We all endeavour to be the perfect human being, but I’m pretty confident they don’t exist because we can always learn better and do better.
This is why I think everyone, including me and our federal bodies and institutions, can benefit from awareness training on biases because we sometimes don’t realize that they’re there. Our government is committed to evidence-based decision making that takes into consideration the impacts of policies on all Canadians, including racialized communities. The Prime Minister gave me the mandate to make sure I am looking across government and working with my colleagues in cabinet to make sure the plus component of gender-based analysis focuses on diversity and inclusion in all decisions that we make. So yes, we will continue to do that work.
I would like it noted that Bill C-5 does talk about cultural sensitivity training. The door has been opened to ensure that we can actually define what our expectations are as a society. I look forward to that legislation going through the house. I look forward to the debates at committee, and I will be pushing for better because better is always possible.
Thank you. The next few questions are from Senator Omidvar. I think you touched on some of them; you’ve already provided some answers.
In the last Parliament, the government moved forward with GBA+ throughout government, especially in the NC process for legislation. Senator Omidvar supported that move then and continues to, although she would welcome that the analysis be shared with us.
However, Senator Omidvar is concerned about the approach. The language of GBA+ somehow evokes priorities. The plus is second to the main. For too long have racial disparities been given secondary or no priority. It is high time that the government applies a separate, unique and robust race-based analysis on all legislation. In light of the context of the day, will your government commit to doing so?
I would like to thank Senator Omidvar for her comments. She and I were able to exchange a conversation. It was interesting because there is a diversity of perspectives and experiences. As somebody who has been in these hallways knows well, for me the plus is not second, but it will be my focus moving forward. I think there has been a highlighting of the importance of my role at the cabinet table to ensure the plus is forward.
I am actually not going to get bogged down in terminologies. What I am going to do is make sure that the Anti-Racism Secretariat is a stop in every single policy and decision we make from all departments and agencies.
I do believe that when systemic racism and discrimination ends up in your backyard, that’s when it’s real. I think that’s why the videos of George Floyd — I’ve seen these things happen my whole life. I am not able to relate to anti-black or anti-Indigenous racism, but I can learn more about it and I can represent it.
When people saw that face, they could relate to that face. I could see my friends, I could see the children of my friends, and it hit home in a very different way.
It’s important that we get into people’s backyards and that we do this work. What I am doing is challenging our appointment process, our departments and agencies, to really look at where they are obtaining information from; who they are inviting to the table.
When I was the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the first thing I did, every table I went to, was to ask who is being represented to ensure that at least half the voices were new voices. That’s what I will continue to push to do. I will make sure that the plus is not an afterthought. I will make sure that it is a priority.
Welcome to all ministers who have joined us, and thank you for taking the time to do that.
I’m very honoured to be able to ask you questions from Senator Jaffer before I get to my own questions. It is actually building on some of the questions that Senator Moncion just posed by colleagues.
I will read the comment from Senator Mobina Jaffer. It is initially directed to you, Minister Chagger:
As minister for diversity and inclusion, I am sure that working on policies to ensure inclusion is a top priority for you. With recent events, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s acknowledgement that systemic racism is a problem in Canada, we all have more work to do. My question to you is, will you be the lead minister in making sure that policies to eradicate systemic racism is out in place for implementation in different departments? and what is your immediate plan? Also, Would you consider adopting a Race Based Analysis, as a separate tool from the Gender Based Analysis Plus we currently have?
I will be quick, because I know time runs by quickly.
It is another tool in the toolbox. I am not leaving anything out of our toolbox right now. What I am doing is working with all departments and agencies, all ministers, any Canadian who wants to, to actually deconstruct our systems and look at what works, what doesn’t work, and maybe what’s mould infested and needs to go away. I’m looking at it as a renovation opportunity. With COVID-19, we have an opportunity to build back better and more inclusive.
I feel the roads have crossed at the perfect time. We are going to have to establish a new normal, so why not establish a new normal that’s more inclusive and actually works for more Canadians, if not all Canadians? If that is a tool that will permit to us get there, yes.
In the immediate term, I am asking for metrics, and I’m trying to get information as to who is getting to government, who is applying, who is to be considered. That way I can see who is missing and who we need to bring into the fold.
As we create new systems, I’m also making sure that they are lived by the diversity of Canada and lived experiences. I also always ask, “Great program, great idea. Where did it come from?” I will push.
Thank you, minister. A supplemental to that — and it also gets added on when Minister Hussen responds — is the way in which gender-based analysis plus, including whatever race-based analysis is being done, is essentially kept secret and treated as something that is protected by cabinet privacy. Can you commit to making this information more available and thereby increase the accountability of the government and this important approach to dealing with systemic racism?
Thank you, senator, for that important question. That’s part of the reason for the creation of the Anti-Racism Secretariat. It is supposed to coordinate action against systemic racism and discrimination across government; hold departments accountable.
One of the by-products of recent events has been a renewed emphasis and focus in all of us to do better and, as Minister Chagger has indicated, to deconstruct systems and see where we can have better outcomes, whether that is collecting better data, holding departments accountable, being bolder in our aspirations or listening to young people who are asking for building back better.
I agree with Minister Chagger. The recovery process from COVID-19 presents all of us with an opportunity to, not only rebuild, but rebuild better and not go back to normal, because normal was part of the problem, and to really reimagine our society and to include more people. That starts with listening to the lived reality of far too many Canadians who are simply not getting the outcomes that we wish them to get, whether it is in their interactions with law enforcement or in their access to services and benefits from various orders of government.
I come with a science background. Part of this conversation about disaggregated data I’m having a challenge with, because everyone is talking about disaggregated data, is what does it really mean, and what are we looking for? We have to do a deep dive as to what our expectations are.
Historically, data has also been used for evil. I want to make sure that data is actually used for good and to serve its purpose. I believe part of this conversation about disaggregated data should come with parameters as to how it is used and how it is made available to Canadians, first of all.
One step back, I would say the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force that has been established, they are working with provinces and territories and different departments at different levels of government to collect disaggregated data, so we’re getting a window into this world. We have an opportunity to set some parameters as to how it is used and is it siloed. Part of the challenge with the federal government — and I can’t speak to others — is that we silo information. If I ask for a list of everything that we’ve done as a government since we took office in 2015, it’s very difficult to get.
I’m going to give a shout-out to my senior associate deputy minister, Gina Wilson, who is actually working across departments to ensure this information is available. She is ensuring that when it comes to the Anti-Racism Secretariat, it is a resource, and when it’s not a resource — you know, add women, change the world — we are raising it, not at the table, but as the system unfolds. If that means we need to derail a conversation because it’s not taking the proper steps that we are putting into place for better outcomes and better actions, then we are going to do that. We’re committed to doing that work together.
My next question is to Minister Blair. It’s about RCMP leadership failing to disclose that the RCMP officers seen on the RCMP dashcam forcibly handling Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation — resulting in a demonstrably violent arrest, punching him in the head and using a chokehold over an expired vehicle licence — that this officer was still actively on duty while facing charges of alleged assaults last year.
Minister, you may not feel this way, but on your behalf, I have to say you’ve been embarrassed by Commissioner Lucki’s failure to demonstrate a modicum of understanding about systemic racism on more than one public occasion. Minister, her words are actions. I am judging her on her actions; her words are actions.
This is a crisis. These recent RCMP and police killings and unrestrained violence demonstrate that militarism in the RCMP and police forces is real and entrenched.
Minister Blair, this is not a crisis where leaders can just be comfortable, where leaders can indulge in white ignorance and white fragility. Are you doing anything more, as the minister responsible, than what you’ve already told us?
Yes, senator. First of all, I understand the concerns, and I agree with many of the concerns expressed. I think it’s very important that there be transparency and accountability in policing. Policing doesn’t work if the people who are being policed don’t trust the police. They need to trust that they will be guided by the rule of law and act in the public interest, and when there is misconduct, that they will be held to account.
My responsibility as a minister is to ensure that that actually takes place, and I will fulfill my responsibility in that regard. Also, there are some systemic things that need to be addressed and we are looking at them. For example, I have already spoken about the timeliness of response to complaint investigations because, again, it needs to be objective, comprehensive and timely, and it isn’t at the present time. I’ve heard that from many people.
I also want to be clear that words matter too — I really do — and I think it’s important. I’m not making excuses for anyone, but I also recall the day I became a police chief, the very first question asked of me was whether there is such a thing as racial profiling. I said yes, and at the time I believe I was the first police chief in North America to have ever said so. And they said, “You’re admitting it.” And I said, “I’m acknowledging it, because if you don’t acknowledge it, how can you do anything about it?” And frankly, my world began to change very quickly at that moment.
This month I hosted a round table on the potential use of body cams by the RCMP in Nunavut. After a robust conversation with 34 representatives of the Government of Canada, the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the RCMP, both from national and from V Division, some senators, colleagues who have impressive policing experience, as well as other interested stakeholders, including Captain Mercier of the Kativik Regional Police in our neighbouring region of Nunavik, who reported their pilot program on body cams had been well received and reduced police complaints, a clear consensus emerged that the accountability and transparency linked with body cams would be an important first step in rebuilding the trust relationship between the RCMP and residents of Nunavut.
It was also generally agreed that Nunavut, with its very high percentage of Indigenous community members — the highest in the country, as you know — and, sadly, with police-related deaths in Nunavut nine times higher proportionally than in Ontario, and the most recent in Clyde River in May, it was agreed that Nunavut would serve as an appropriate pilot project for the rest of the country. However, territory-wide deployment of body cameras is not possible without significant federal financial support.
Minister, given the commitment by the Prime Minister, I believe on more than one occasion, to deploy body cameras within the RCMP, will you commit to supporting funding the deployment of body cameras in Nunavut for use by RCMP V Division members stationed there? And I don’t need a long answer.
Okay, great. Thank you. I appreciate that. And I will be pursuing this with great enthusiasm.
Minister Chagger, there was a December 2017 report by the Interdepartmental Circles on Indigenous Representation — headed by Canada’s federal deputy minister champion for Indigenous federal employees, Ms. Gina Wilson, who I’m happy is here today — and it was found that bilingual requirements for executive positions in the government — EX-1 to EX-5 is the category, I believe — remain a barrier to Indigenous representation in the senior levels of the federal public service. You mentioned you have been working on this.
What concrete actions has your government taken in eliminating the barriers to Indigenous participation at the executive level of the bureaucracy? Can your departments provide updated metrics in follow-up to the 2017 report, please?
Gina Wilson, Senior Associate Deputy Minister, Diversity, Inclusion and Youth, Canadian Heritage
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Honourable senators, thank you for this extraordinary opportunity to speak to you on this. I’m very happy to do so.
Progress in the federal public service has been slow and incremental, but there has been progress on employment equity and diversity. Many Voices One Mind was a product I prepared two years ago and it spoke to what was referenced by the senator. It is an excellent report that was the most comprehensive consultation of public servants across the country.
Last year we published a baseline of indicators on how each department was progressing. We are about to release a report that measures the first year data, so as far as I’m concerned, measuring accountability and performance is the way to go, and making departments responsible for that measuring.
Beyond2020 is an initiative that the public service has taken as well. It talks to being nimble, it talks to being agile, it talks to being equipped, but a very important pillar of that is diversity, so I feel a commitment. I’m seeing a lot of my colleagues here in the room who are very interested in increasing representation, because as you go higher in the ranks in the public service the numbers of Indigenous people get lower and lower. There are very few of us — in fact, there is me, at one level. All that to say there is a commitment in the public service that I see. Thank you.
One of the things I have noticed is that the acceleration of public servants in the public service does not work, so I am actually asking for a blueprint of what’s taking place. Omar Alghabra, who is the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, is also tasked with this, to actually be able to measure and see what’s taking place.
On your direct comment with regard to language requirements and so forth, there is also a revisiting taking place. What we have done in the open, transparent, merit-based appointment process, depending on the needs of the region, is where the skills have to meet the needs of the region, so there is a review of that work taking place as well.
Thank you. With due respect to the three ministers appearing today, I am concerned that we don’t have ministers whose mandates are focused exclusively on Indigenous issues, such as Minister Miller or Minister Bennett. And, of course, this discussion on systemic racism goes far beyond recent incidents involving police.
With the indulgence of this chamber, I’d like to do what I did on Tuesday, in Minister Morneau’s absence, and place on the record several questions that I would submit and request written answers from the responsible ministers.
The first question is: On May 28, 2020, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated submitted a complaint to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In their letter, the NTI president asserts that Canada has failed, and continues to fail, to fulfill its international obligations in relation to Inuit as an ethnic and linguistic minority under international instruments to which Canada is a signatory.
During consideration of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, the Minister of Culture and Heritage in Nunavut lamented that Nunavummiut, particularly Inuktitut-speaking elders, cannot enjoy equal access to federal services that other Canadians take for granted in either English or French.
The language commissioner, Helen Klengenberg, also testified before the Senate on that bill, and tabled a legal opinion that she obtained, stating that the federal government is required to comply with Nunavut’s Inuit Language Protection Act, which requires organizations to provide signage, personal services, Inuktitut service and reception services in the Inuktitut language, as well as to provide correspondence, translation and interpretation services to Inuit when they request services.
Will this government act and provide federal services to Inuit within Inuit Nunangat in Inuktitut?
And finally, recent decisions like the announcement of women’s shelters for Indigenous populations have, in my view, shown a lack of consideration for Indigenous input. Despite repeated requests from Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women’s association, and one-on-one meetings with responsible ministers, and the relevant call for justice in the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Final Report, no Inuit-specific shelters were announced.
How is this government ensuring that decisions reflect Indigenous input? How are decision makers incorporating the feedback of Indigenous leaders, community members and organizations?
I’d be grateful for written responses to those questions, please Madam Chair.
Thank you all for being here. I will try to go as quickly as I can with a number of questions from my colleagues Senator Bernard and Senator Busson.
The first one is a “point b” to Senator Patterson’s question, and that was around the use of BWV cameras. You have committed to his response. I would like to add that it be a national commitment beyond that area, with all due respect. Is that something you will commit to nationally to improve the trust and mutual respect in all our communities?
Thank you very much for the question. I have had some discussion with the Nunavut government, the RCMP and a number of community organizations in Nunavut. That’s why I can say with confidence, yes, we are prepared to move forward.
By the way, Senator Patterson, the work you have done is helpful in bringing people together and building a consensus around the value of using this.
In every other jurisdiction, I will remind everyone that we work closely with the provinces and territories. In most parts of the country, policing is done by the RCMP through contract to the provincial authority. There is necessary work that has yet to be done in working with our provincial and territorial partners about the use of such technologies within their jurisdiction for police under contract to their governments.
I undertake to this house to do that work, because I think there is value in greater transparency and accountability, and this technology can provide that. At the same time, I want to acknowledge the reality of working within a cooperative confederation with our provincial and territorial partners.
Minister Chagger, thank you for being here. I would like to talk about the issue of an anti-racism directorate on behalf of Senator Bernard.
Two weeks ago, as I think everyone knows, the Parliamentary Black Caucus released a letter suggesting the establishment of an anti-black racism directorate at the Privy Council Office to monitor programming and coordinate interdepartmental efforts. You’ve talked a bit about that today.
We are currently in a civil rights movement with Black Lives Matter and calls for accountability for Indigenous rights, yet the web page of Canadian Heritage’s Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022 has not been updated since July 17, 2019.
The Prime Minister has committed to making change for black Canadians and Indigenous peoples, but what specific work has been done with ministers across the government to build on the spirit of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent? Which recommendations does the Government of Canada plan to adopt in order to act against continued racism in Canada?
On the Anti-Racism Strategy and secretariat, that strategy was brought forward in June 2019. In October, the secretariat was set up, and shortly thereafter Peter Flegel was named director. Yes, COVID-19 happened. COVID-19 has not stopped us from doing the work, but it is important that Peter and his team be able to establish some of the parameters for the way forward because the decision-making table has to be representative and reflective of our country.
As the minister responsible for that secretariat, I need to be able to empower and enable him and his team to do that work, because I want better outcomes. I think that’s an important step.
I recognize that the strategy has Minister Rodriguez’s comments on it. That’s when it was established. So we will be working with Peter to ensure that there is currency to it. Senator Bernard has been kind enough to raise that with me, so we are looking to make sure that it’s actually profiling the work we are doing and the opportunities.
In regard to the International Decade for People of African Descent, we recognized it as a government in 2018. It spans until 2024. It’s an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the important contributions that people of African descent have made to Canadian society.
It comes with an action plan that we are working with to ensure it is informed by the community but the advancements are made accordingly. Some of the commitments we made — including the $9 million for black communities and $10 million for mental health — are to ensure we are advancing those commitments. I am already looking at how we will go beyond the decade, because the work might not all be done. I’m going to try, but at the same time this is about laying a foundation for the future of our country. The commitment, I promise you, is there.
Mr. Hussen, I would love to hear a full answer to Senator Housakos’s earlier question around the five areas and all the recommendations. I will dive into one of those, and that’s the support for black community organizations.
Organizations that support black communities were already vulnerable, as we know, and have been impacted by COVID-19. Senator Bernard heard from the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, an organization offering support to black youth in which each of their employees chose to take a pay cut to continue offering services. They were already working under precarious conditions and should not be put in a position where they must choose between their own livelihood and offering services to their community. What specific initiatives to address mental health and support black youth have been made as per your mandate as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development?
Thank you so much. In addition to Minister Chagger’s comments on the $9 million allocated for black youth and the $10 million to put together a culturally sensitive approach to mental health supports in the black community, this $25 million fund for supporting black community organizations will go towards supporting black youth programming, in part. But it’s about building the capacity of these organizations so they can be in a better position to serve the community even more.
Second, work has already started on the Canadian Institute for Persons of African Descent, which is part of that funding.
In addition to that, the Emergency Community Support Fund that comes under my department that we announced on May 20 will be distributed in a way that takes into account the needs of all vulnerable populations, including black Canadians. As part of the government’s response to community organizations that are under pressure due to COVID-19, we have asked the three national trusted agencies that are helping us distribute the funds to provide us with disaggregated data and rolling reports so we know where some of the gaps may emerge. Then we have the ability to address those gaps. We are very sensitive to making sure we get it right and not only take into consideration the geographic diversity of Canada, but also the demographic diversity.
Thank you. Minister Blair, thank you very much. Regarding public safety, this is tied into what we’re all concerned about, and that is wellness checks that have resulted in death. There have been four people known to all of us who have been killed during wellness checks when attended by police in Canada. They have all been Indigenous, black and racialized people dealing with mental health issues. We have repeatedly demonstrated as a country that black and Indigenous people cannot afford to have a mental health crisis without their life being jeopardized by the very system that we know needs to support them.
What actions will you take to prevent the use of excessive force by police when responding to black and Indigenous peoples? Will you consider shifting funds — we’ve heard different language on this — from police to resource-based services for black and Indigenous peoples including housing, health and mental health services?
Thank you very much, senator. First of all, let me state unequivocally that excessive use of force is never acceptable. It’s a criminal activity, and people who engage in such activity need to be held to account.
I want to acknowledge how challenging mental health issues can be for police and first responders, as they are for society. We know there are many examples, which need to be built out and invested in, of better responses to people who are in crisis, particularly in situations where they may be at risk of harming themselves or others.
Better outcomes can be achieved through various other models. I’m very supportive of a full examination of ways in which the mental health system can be improved in this country. Currently, in most jurisdictions, the police being the only responder at 3:00 in the morning, as has been said, can be enormously challenging. We need to make other investments as a society. Some of those are federal, and some involve municipal and provincial dollars. There is work to be done, and we are always looking at ways in which we can improve the training.
One of the fundamental notions, and the first principle of response, is that the primary responsibility of the police is the preservation of all life. Police need to be provided with robust training. I know that training exists within the RCMP, as it does for police services across the country, in terms of de-escalation and minimal use of force —
Thanks to all of you for accepting the invitation to appear before us. Although I appreciate the presence of all three of you, my questions will be for Minister Blair. Minister Blair, I have a question on behalf of my colleague Senator Sinclair:
Bill C-3 is currently before the House of Commons and proposes to enhance oversight of the RCMP, as well as border services. Professor Stephanie Carvin of Carleton University has pointed out that this bill could be strengthened to address systemic racism. For example, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission of the RCMP does not currently report whether race was a factor in alleged misconduct, or track the racial or ethnic background of complainants. The commission could also report more details about the types of allegations made, and the outcomes of investigations.
Would the government be open to Senate amendments to strengthen this legislation, and would the government welcome the Senate taking an early look at this bill, such as through the special committee on systemic racism proposed in the Senate by Senator Lankin?
Thank you. These are important questions, because independent and objective civilian oversight and transparency are very important. It’s one of the reasons we introduced at the first opportunity, in Bill C-3, a new oversight body for our border services officers that, as you said, also addresses enhancements to oversight of civilian complaints for the police.
I can tell you that I very much value the work of the Senate and its committees. In my experience, thoughtful work done in this house has improved a number of pieces of legislation. I’m very open to any way in which that legislation can serve the best interests of Canadians.
This is a priority for our government, and we introduced it quickly. Unfortunately, current circumstances have perhaps delayed its passage through the House. I’d be eager to get it into the hands of the Senate, as well as our committees in the House of Commons, in order to do that important work. I am very much open to the best possible legislation that will serve Canadians. This also serves our Border Services and police officers, because if they are not trusted by the people they serve, they cannot do their job. These instruments and this legislation can help them be more worthy of the trust of Canadians.
Thank you, minister. For my part, I certainly look forward to working with you on this.
I have a question on behalf of another colleague Senator Boniface, Minister Blair:
The First Nation Policing Program was originally funded for front-line policing only through the tri-partite process. The funding over the years has been sporadic and insufficient by successive governments.
Will the government finally make a commitment to provide a holistic service that is directed at community wellness, including social workers, health workers and police? Will they get beyond short-term agreements to create long-term sustainability and success for the communities and their services?
I appreciate the question, particularly from Senator Boniface, who I know is one of the most experienced and able experts in this area. I’ve worked with her for a number of years.
I’ve said we’re going to bring forward a new legislative framework for Indigenous policing. It has to be recognized, first of all, as an essential service. This program has been in place for almost four decades and has received program funding. Many of the deficiencies are a direct result of the fact that it does not have a proper legislative framework with appropriate governance structures and recognition of its importance.
We’ve looked at a number of jurisdictions. For example, in the Yukon Indigenous policing has been effective in terms of using auxiliary officers, community safety officers and special constables — a number of people in the community employing different responses and approaches to community safety. These comprehensive models need to be facilitated within that legislation. It is why we have committed to co-produce that legislation with Indigenous leadership, as well as to work with the territorial and provincial governments, because they all have a role to play. We need policing services that work for those communities, and the only way to get that right is to work with those communities. We are absolutely committed to that. I look forward to the support and advice from this house in terms of how we can do that better.
The first question is on behalf of Senator Nancy Hartling from New Brunswick:
During this pandemic, there is a growing concern around mental health issues related to the current climate and growing awareness of systemic racism. Are there strategies that examine and address the effects of racism and bullying? What resources are available? We are particularly concerned about the impact on children and youth, where bullying takes place on social media. They are vulnerable to mental health issues and suicide. How do you plan to protect them?
Thank you so much for this important question. The approach to reinforcing social cohesion can and must be led by government, but it’s a whole-of-society approach.
In fact, one of the best programs I have seen in action is a program in Saskatchewan, where the Saskatoon district school board and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission came together to set up a program for kids as young as 6, through elementary school, to teach them the importance of learning about other cultures and religions, appreciating and embracing differences, and working towards strengthening social cohesion.
We need programs like that to reinforce mechanisms in our school system to protect young people who are victims of discrimination, either personal or systemic. We need to enable our society to strengthen means of redress for victims of discrimination, whether based on race, sexual orientation or disability.
For many Canadians, these institutions are the only places they can turn to when they are a victim of institutional discrimination based on their disability, race or religion. We have to do a good job to reinforce those institutions, and we have to lead by example.
I always say that federal leadership that reflects Canada can only make us a better country. Our civil service is an example of that, as well as our judiciary, police forces, law enforcement and educational systems. We must strive to be better, and that is a journey that Canada is well placed to take. Canada can be an example for the rest of the world as a country that always strives to be better and more inclusive. That is a very powerful statement and example for the world, when in many areas people can’t get along due to differences. We have demonstrated in Canada that not only can we come together through our differences, we can actually work together to build a strong society. But there is always more to be done and we have a lot of work to do.
I have a second question for Minister Chagger. Front-line public servants, government employees who provide services directly to citizens, are the face of the Canadian government. Many studies have shown the benefits and the importance of making sure services are provided by employees who reflect cultural diversity. Knowing that, can you explain why some public institutions, such as the Canadian Armed Forces, still do not have or have not disclosed diversity targets for hiring and retention?
Thank you, senator. I can speak faster in English. This is a conversation that has been needed. When our government came in 2015, we brought that conversation forward when it came to gender. When it comes to the diversity of our country being reflected, as my deputy Ms. Wilson mentioned, there has been some progress made within the public service.
Some progress has been made within the public service. When it comes to our agencies, whether it’s the Armed Forces, or so forth — one thing I will mention about Minister Sajjan is that the way the Armed Forces are reporting, there is no gender affiliated; there is no description of the individual. The unconscious bias of individuals that would be defined by it is actually going to transform because of this decision that he made. He is looking within his Armed Forces as to what’s taking place. There is work being done — he and I just had a conversation a couple of days ago — as to what our coordinated approach is going to be among ministers who are aligned regarding what direction, support and resources are needed for this change to take place. I believe that when it comes to our first line we’re getting better, but people can advance.
I think that’s part of the problem. If you look at people who have made it into our forces, whatever you want to use, there are also a lot of people leaving. That’s a problem. That means our institutions are not inclusive and people don’t belong. People are fearful of reporting, and so forth. That’s why the lived experience bit is a conversation we need to have, and that’s why I’m starting with myself and stating that I can do better. I want to do better. If I, at the head of a department, can make that comment, I think it’s important that other people recognize that mental health is real.
Our public servants aren’t able to explain that they don’t have all the answers because they have to come with the answers. That’s similar within all of our departments and agencies. That is part of the discrimination that exists. I need to help unpack it, and I need willing partners to want to. I can assure you, the ministers around the cabinet table, with the leadership of the Prime Minister, are willing to have those conversations. They’ve started, but we also need a change in culture so that people can have open conversations. I’m lucky to have a deputy who is willing to have them.
Thank you. I’d like to ask one last question if I may. The public service has positive discrimination policies, which you talked about, to favour the hiring of visible minorities and people who are subjected to systemic discrimination. Do managers’ performance assessments include meeting hiring targets? In other words, are bonuses and performance assessments linked to meeting targets for hiring visible minorities?
I’m fighting for equity over equality; that’s where I am at. There has been overrepresentation. We did it with women. It was important that when you had two people who were both merit-based and able to do the job, we picked the woman. That is what it’s coming to when you look into diversity as a country. There are opportunities, but are you suggesting that there is a hand up to people?
No. I wouldn’t think so; no. I think there are goals we could establish. There is a need for that conversation. There’s a transformation that needs to take place, and it’s one that is taking place. Right now, there is still space-protecting happening. It’s hard for people to look at the spaces they occupy and give a hand up to someone else. There is internal competition. If you go into a room and you see some diversity, people say “check, it’s been met,” and it’s fascinating. I know the rooms that I’m in. I know the way I’m spoken to versus the way others are. There is a tone and temperament; it exists, it’s alive and it’s real. There’s a lot of work to do.
I have the grit in me to fight, and that’s why I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. I’ve seen these conversations take place before, but I’ve never seen a movement like we have right now where the desire is there. I’ve seen programs like this be put into place, and I’ve seen other governments come in and cut those programs. I saw those comments shared right on the floor of the Senate.
My first question is for Minister Blair. It’s on behalf of my colleague Senator Kutcher from Nova Scotia:
Will the Minister commit to ensuring that an appropriately constituted public joint Federal Provincial inquiry into the Nova Scotia massacre will be established with a mandate broad enough to address the complex social and structural issues and policing practices raised by the incident?
The simple answer is yes, sir. I’ve been working very closely and spoke as recently as earlier this morning with the Attorney General of Nova Scotia. We have established a terms of reference for a very comprehensive review that has a number of significant components, but also has a great deal of emphasis on restorative measures, working with victims, their families and community, and getting Nova Scotians the answers that they want.
I’m very hopeful that matter will be announced more formally in the coming days, but we’re absolutely committed to that. We understand the essential importance of ensuring that all Nova Scotians, all Canadians, but in particular the families of the victims of that terrible tragedy, get the answer that they need. If there are individuals who need to be held to account, they will.
Finally, I believe that there are significant lessons that need to be learned and then applied. We are committed to that. We want to make sure that we do that, inclusive of the families of those victims and people who were directly impacted by that tragedy, and we’re ensuring that the terms of reference will comprehensively examine every aspect of that issue so that Nova Scotians can know the full truth.
My second question is for you, Minister Blair and Minister Chagger. Recently in my province, New Brunswick, a doctor of African origin was the victim of racism on social media. The hateful comments were so bad that now the doctor fears for his safety and, according to a statement from his lawyer, he is under police protection because he received threats.
Your mandate letter states that you have a duty to fight hate speech online. What’s more, Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy states that the federal government will continue its bilateral and multilateral efforts in cooperation with digital industry players, including social media, to fight against online hate and against using the Internet for extremist purposes.
Since the adoption of Canada’s Digital Charter in 2019, what discernible progress has been made and are there any talks under way with web giants like Facebook and Twitter, whose policies seem to be quite lax, to combat hate speech in Canada on all social media platforms?
Thank you very much. I want to assure the senator and this house that a great deal of work is ongoing. Just last week, I met with all of the Five Eyes partners. Canada and its allies are closely aligned in addressing online hate, the propagation of hate in those forums, and working with internet service providers and those responsible for that social media from engaging in that.
We’re also working with our police officials. We have been able to identify a number of organizations and groups. We quite recently listed, for example, a number of terrorist organizations that were ideologically motivated in their hatred. I can also tell you from a police perspective that actually prosecuting these crimes as hate can be enormously challenging, but that doesn’t mean we need to tolerate it.
We are addressing it, and we’re looking at the people and the funding that is responsible behind that. There is a great deal of work that is being done and continues to be done by all of our officials. We are looking at a number of different legislative responses in order to ensure compliance for those organizations that facilitate this hatred online.
I can tell you that this has also been the subject of considerable discussion at the federal, provincial and territorial table among officials, not just in Justice and Public Safety, but among others. It is the whole of government and all orders of government that are engaged in this.
Public education is a very important component, because we need to make sure young people, in particular, and vulnerable people have the information they need to protect themselves. Officials also have the responsibility to ensure that those places are not facilitating hateful speech and inciting violence. And —
I want to acknowledge Senator Mégie, who has inspired this important Committee of the Whole. I’m also mindful of some of my colleagues who are not in the chamber with us but have been real champions in addressing a lot of these issues — Senators Ataullahjan, Oh and Ngo.
Minister, I’m going to go to the phrase that you used — and I’ve abandoned all the long wording — actions, outcomes and what we can expect. My questions will be for Minister Blair, but thank you for those words and for your energy, which is unparalleled. I think you have more energy than all of us put together. Thanks to all of you for being here.
Minister Blair, Minister Chagger mentioned anti-black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian and bigotry against any racialized group. We are concerned about what’s happening. Since the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, we know there has been a rise in anti-Asian sentiment. There was a report, the Angus Reid report, that really has some very concerning numbers.
First, what will be your actions and outcomes in response to this report and what Asian Canadians are experiencing across Canada; there are some very alarming examples. I’m a Vancouverite, so this is not the city and the region that I know, but I know it’s real.
Second, there’s a lower rate of reporting to law enforcement, and there could be a lot of reasons for that. Again, what will you do to address some of the potential systemic barriers that may prevent people from reporting and the fact that in some of these incidents, the perpetrators are just getting away with warnings; there haven’t been charges. Will there be some changes to that?
They are very important questions. Racism against any group is unacceptable. We have seen, and it has been well documented and raised by even members of my own government and cabinet, the experience of anti-Asian racism arising directly out of some of the misinformation, the hateful comments and conduct that has been evident in the aftermath of this.
Some actions are being taken. It’s being closely monitored by the police. I will say that the limitations of our hate speech laws do not easily facilitate the prosecution of these things. That may also be affecting people’s willingness and the likelihood they would come forward and report it. But one of the most important things — and certainly Minister Chagger has been outspoken about this — is calling it out for exactly what it is; it is unacceptable and potentially a criminal activity.
It is being carefully monitored. I also believe there is a responsibility, as I answered to an earlier question, with those media providers that facilitate the spreading of that speech. We need to do a better job of helping to regulate that environment.
Yes. And it is the responsibility of the police with jurisdiction to conduct an investigation to gather the evidence and bring forward the charges when the evidence supports those charges, and then it is for the criminal justice system to deal with those individuals.
We do have laws. With respect, that’s an assault, but if it is hate-motivated and there’s evidence to support that, that’s also a hate crime. That’s a very serious matter. But those matters do have to be brought forward by the police in jurisdiction. It usually requires the people who are victims of such crimes, or who have evidence of it, to bring that forward to facilitate those investigations.
They are taken seriously within our criminal justice system. However, I also recognize that it may be difficult for people to make that complaint or for the evidence necessary to effect a prosecution.
I have a couple questions for Minister Chagger and one for Minister Blair, if I get to it.
Minister Chagger, the black and Indigenous communities in Canada are badly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Black and Indigenous youth have higher high school dropout rates than others, are overrepresented in child welfare services and are more likely to live in poverty. There’s also a correlation between income levels and crime rates between being young and getting involved in crime, and between feelings of exclusion and the likelihood of joining a gang.
How is your government working to address the difficult life circumstances faced by many black and Indigenous youth in Canada, and how do you propose to address the sense that many black and Indigenous youth have of being excluded?
Thank you, senator, for that very important question. Without repeating the premise of your question, to help address this issue, Justice Canada is initiating engagement processes with black youth who have been in conflict with the law, as well as with other key stakeholders. The engagement process will help us better understand the challenges black youth face when navigating the justice system, including anti-black racism.
A comment I have been making in regard to working with the justice system is that if we can make sure a young person is not going into the justice system, we can build a leader out of them, rather than a criminal. We need to look at a restorative justice approach, and a whole-of-government approach.
We’re taking a whole-of-government approach in making sure those resources, including a National Housing Strategy, exist. We have to have a good place to call home and have those resources in place. It’s about making sure the most vulnerable in our society were the ones we gave a hand up to and helped out.
Thank you for that really important question. It’s also a question of priorities. Some of the solutions to divert people away from the criminal justice system can be found from the very communities that feel marginalized. These programs work. Ironically, even though they have very high rates of success, they are not resourced adequately.
One of the things we have to do as we re-examine the entire justice system is to reinforce those community supports and the community justice diversion programs that really help young people be diverted away from the criminal justice system. It’s better for them and it’s better for our public safety agenda, but it’s also better for the court and justice system. One of the things you hear about constantly in terms of the examination of the court system is how hugely backlogged our court system is. Guess what? If we were to divert more young people away from that system who have committed non-violent crimes — or who have been charged with non-violent crimes — then the number of cases in our justice system would be reduced dramatically. Those people could get on with their lives, and get the skills training and other supports that they need.
One of the things I am astounded by is that, in listening to a lot of the comments and questions, a lot of solutions are not new. These solutions, targets, numbers and aspirations have been around for decades.
I remember in Ontario in the early 1990s, there was a very comprehensive report done on employment equity, on marginalization and the justice system, and on inclusion of black youth in society. We know the solutions; we just need to come together as political leaders to get the job done. That requires leadership.
Canadians have told us very loudly and clearly, especially the younger generation, that this is the time. They want a more equal and equitable society. They want us to dismantle the barriers that prevent far too many people in Canada from realizing their dreams, and from being truly included in Canadian society.
It is up to all of us — federal, provincial, municipal, private, non-profit sectors, Indigenous partners, and everyone else — to do the job. We can do our part as parliamentarians to lead on the federal level.
Larry Summers, the well-known American economist, recently noted that he felt like he was living through the Spanish flu of 1919, the stock market crash of 1929 and the summer of discontent in the United States in 1968, all at the same time.
This is a difficult time to be in government, Minister Blair. We appreciate the hard work of your offices and the public service as we struggle to respond to the many challenges that face us. During this difficult time, do you really think that you’ll be able to make meaningful progress in responding to the unique challenges faced by people in Canada’s black and Indigenous communities, especially regarding their interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system?
Thank you to all three of the ministers. Thank you to the government for the incredible work you’ve done during this period and during challenging times. I will be asking a question for both Senator Bernard and Senator Cotter. I will happily put my question in writing later.
I note that many of us were very pleased to see two thirds of the cabinet express renewed support for looking at mandatory minimum penalties, and the call for building a robust, comprehensive economic, health and social safety net. All of us here, I’m sure, are keen to be part of that process. Thank you.
Both questions from my colleagues are directed to you, Minister Blair. The first is from Senator Bernard: “When COVID-19 hit, you called on CSC and the Parole Board to develop strategies to reduce numbers in prisons in order to limit the spread of the virus. March numbers reflect release of about 626 prisoners, close to the average number of prisoners who are typically released from prison each month, including due to statutory release requirements.
“On June 9, you reported that net numbers in federal prisons were down by 700 in March and April, which is laudable, but it seems that this is the result of fewer people being sentenced to federal incarceration, rather than CSC following your direction to develop release strategies.
“Worse yet, most federal prisons implemented weeks of lockdowns, confining prisoners to their cells in conditions that amount to solitary confinement. Indigenous and black peoples have been disproportionately subjected to these torturous conditions which are prohibited under Canadian and international law.
“Bill C-83 aimed to end solitary confinement but did not provide sufficient accountability measures to prevent its continued use by Corrections.
“Will you now consider the judicial oversight of structured intervention units in conditions of segregation that the Senate proposed in its amendments to Bill C-83? If not, how do you plan to implement the vital oversight and interventions so clearly required? Second, given the increasing mass incarceration of racialized people and concerns about inadequate responses from CSC, will you commit to directing CSC to reduce both black and Indigenous prisoners by a minimum of 5% per year and implement judicial oversight of the sentence administration as well?”
Both of these were the recommendations of Louise Arbour more than 20 years ago. I join Senator Bernard in respectfully requesting these options be pursued.
Thank you very much, senator, for very important questions. Of course, the federal inmate population is a vulnerable population, particularly during the COVID period, and a population for whom we have a very significant duty of care.
A number of very important measures were taken. As you rightfully indicate, there has been a substantial decrease in the overall population within our federal institutions — a net reduction of about 740 people as I recall.
But in addition we had to take a number of very significant measures within the federal institutions to protect that inmate population. As you’ve said, we have undertaken as much social distancing as possible. Even beyond that, we’re working very closely with Public Health Agency of Canada, provincial public health agencies and even regional health agencies. We’ve done audits in all of the prisons to make sure that workplace health and safety audits, as well as infection control measures, have taken place. Everyone, inmates and workers, in the prison system has been issued with the necessary personal protective equipment.
Very successful measures have been taken. I’m pleased to report, notwithstanding that we had 5 significant outbreaks in our 43 federal institutions, there are no new cases. All of those outbreaks are now under control as a direct result of very assertive measures taken to protect the inmate population.
Unfortunately and tragically, in this COVID pandemic, two inmates did pass, but all the rest have now recovered. That is somewhat positive.
Throughout the entire period, I’ve been working very closely with the leadership of Correctional Service of Canada and Commissioner Kelly. We are very mindful of the impacts of the lockdown conditions. The social isolation measures that had to be put in place to keep the population safe had an impact. She’s taken a number of very appropriate and necessary measures to provide additional support to those individuals.
Finally, in response, I acknowledge with you there are a terribly disproportionate number of people, and great disparities within the corrections system. We see a gross over-representation of our Indigenous population and of racialized people, particularly black males, in the prison system.
It’s important to recognize that the problem is not residing only in Corrections. It’s the police that sent those individuals to court. It’s the court that sentenced them to periods of incarceration. When you look at the social determinants that gave rise to that disproportionality, it goes well beyond the prison system.
Senator, we all must be committed to eliminating and reducing the social injustice. We talk about the disparate impact of crime and victimization in racialized and Indigenous communities in this country, but the correlations are actually with social injustice — unemployment, poverty, no access to decent services and housing, poor outcomes in schools and even in the medical system.
It is incumbent upon us to do so much better in reducing that disparity and the disproportional representation of Indigenous and racialized people in our prison system. I suggest it goes well beyond just Corrections. A whole-of-society response is required to address that disproportionality by eliminating, or at least reducing, the social injustice that is apparent in so many parts of this country that gives rise to those disparities.
That’s why we talk, quite frankly, about systemic racism within the criminal justice system, rather than just look at individual components. It’s very important to look at the entire system, and to address all of the correlations and the causes of people ending up in those unjust circumstances.
Thank you for that response. I’m tempted to leap in. I don’t disagree with you, but there are certainly many areas within Corrections that could be remedied, such as the discriminatory classification assessment procedure, the lack of use of the current measures that exist within the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to release people. I encourage you to implement the targets as a way to encourage Corrections to do even better. Thank you very much for that.
The question from Senator Cotter is this:
Our most recent entry point to this very significant conversation on Systemic Racism was through the lens of the administration of justice, and most particularly policing — the seriously problematic behaviour of police officers in particular. My suggestion to you is that it is possible for you to take immediate, concrete steps to rebuild public confidence in our police services, and make them more responsive to the needs of minority communities. These steps, within your authority respecting the RCMP, could include changes to police policies, and, with respect to officer conduct, should include at least the following commitments:
That, pursuant to RCMP policy, wherever an RCMP officer serves in this country, he or she will be subject to:
- A. a Zero tolerance policy with respect to excessive use of force;
- B. assessments of officer use of force will ONLY be undertaken with the involvement of independent civilian members on Use of Force Committees; and
- C. officers’ conduct MUST be subjected to independent civilian investigative oversight wherever in Canada the officer serves — that is, that incidents and complaints will be INVESTIGATED, NOT JUST REVIEWED, by an independent civilian agency, whether by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission with additional investigatory authority and resources, or by provincial civilian oversight agencies or independent serious incident investigation agencies.
And that such approaches and oversight apply — at the RCMP’s insistence — wherever an RCMP officer serves in Canada.
These measures and many more related to the RCMP are within your power to direct. Will you undertake at least these steps in an immediate initial effort to address the deficit in public confidence in the RCMP, particularly the deficit and distrust that exists within racialized communities in Canada?
Thank you very much, senator. Let me begin by saying that I believe there should never be tolerance of excessive use of force or any racist action by any police officer in any jurisdiction in this country, including, of course, in the RCMP. It’s unacceptable. It’s contrary to the law and to the values and the whole purpose of a police service. These are people who are sworn to serve and protect.
As I stated earlier, I believe that an objective and comprehensive complaints system needs to be timely, fair and objective to have public confidence. We have a civilian complaints review component, and I believe there are ways in which it can be improved. We’ve already had some discussions through Bill C-3 on some of those measures that could be and I am quite prepared to consider.
We work with jurisdictions right across the country. I think it’s also important to recognize, as I earlier alluded, that the vast majority of RCMP officers serving in this country do so under provincial contract and are under the authority and jurisdiction of the provincial or territorial Attorneys General, so it’s also necessary to work with them within the structures they have put in place.
Honourable senators, the committee has been sitting for 155 minutes. In conformity with the order of the Senate of earlier this day, I am obliged to interrupt proceedings so that the committee can report to the Senate.
Ministers, on behalf of all senators, thank you for joining us today to assist us with our work. I would also like to thank your officials.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
The Chair: Honourable senators, is it agreed that the Committee rise and I report to the Senate that the witnesses have been heard?