MMIWG Chap 8 ~ Right for Justice (2b of 3) Reforming Law Enforcement

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Chapter 8, Confronting Oppression ~ Right for Justice, continues discussion of the third identified pathway to violence: Lack of Will and Insufficient Institutional Resources.

To recap, the first two identified pathways to violence were (1) Intergenerational and Multigenerational Trauma and (2) Social and Economic Marginalization.  These are perhaps more self-explanatory.  Yet they are difficult to overcome without societal will and institutional resources.  Sexual exploitation and human trafficking was explored in the first part of this section.  Now we move on to more general law enforcement.

In response to the need to improved access to information for families of MMIWG, funding was provided in 2016 to establish Family Information and Liaison Unites (FILUs) in each province.  (Note: Funding was later extended to March 2020 and then further to March 2024.)  This is an attempt to provide a more accessible and supportive approach to providing information to grieving families.

DEEPER DIVE: The Need to Reform Law Enforcement to Increase Safety (p.674): This section looks at testimony from policing representatives to understand what they are doing to address concerns.

Acknowledging Previous Harms: Brenda Lucki, commissioner of the RCMP, and several others issued an apology for times they could have done better, with a commitment to improving relationships and listening to the needs of families.

Existing Police Policies and Protocols: Various police forces, including the RCMP, stated comprehensive policies and procedures were already in place and being continually updated.  Indigenous communities were identified as one of five “strategic priorities” of the RCMP with commitments to better collaboration, partnering, relationship building and “bias-free policing.”

Re Missing Persons and Major Crimes Policies and Protocols, the RCMP developed a National Missing Persons Strategy in collaboration with families.  An RCMP / Family Communication Schedule was also established to ensure a mutually agreed upon communication schedule.

Police Perspectives on Other Issues Identified in Testimony:  A number of concerns were clarified re concerns raised by families: (1) There is no required waiting period before reporting a missing person. (2) All sudden deaths are to treated as suspicious. (3) RCMP approach is to have two people visit the family re death notifications, one of whom has an understanding of the investigation. (4) Police also recognize the desire and need for families to visit the site where a loved one may have passed. It was recognized that requesting more information could still feel like a complicated or unsafe process, especially at a time of grief, mourning, and trauma.

(Personal note: I must say, as early as 1997, the RCMP were totally respectful and appropriate in their contacts with me.  An ironic relief in the whole tragedy was that because my daughter was found outside of city limits,  I no longer had to deal with Edmonton Police Services.  Another kind RCMP officer later provided escort to the site where her body had been found.  Of course, it was unknown if she had died there or was dumped.  The RCMP assured me they would do a full investigation even though the trail was a month old.) 

Ongoing Challenges and Barriers to Safety: While policies provide a framework for standardized response, that can be compromised by a number of factors.  Police working in rural, remote or northern communities face challenges such as geography, weather, lack of resources, staff turnover, and chronic under-staffing.  These factors also limit the possibility of proactive policing, decrease response times, and can impact investigations.

Human Resources Challenges: Multiple barriers still exist for Indigenous people interested in entering policing, although a number of initiatives have been developed to reduce barriers.  Initiatives have also been implemented to enhance cultural education and awareness.  A challenge identified by policing representatives is the lack of “wraparound services” such as mental health care, housing, and other forms of social services that people may need.  There is lack of programming for youth diversion and lack of victim services for women experiencing violence.

First Nations Policing Services: Resources has not been sufficiently allocated to enable the police to do their work.

Conclusion: Historical and ongoing harms are real and the need to make change is acknowledged. An Indigenous justice system is responsibility-based and focused on restoration of harmony and natural connections rather than punishment.

Findings (p.690):

  • The failure of police services to ensure justice contributes to systemic harm that Indigenous women continue to experience.  Discriminatory treatment creates environments where women are not only under-protected but targeted.
  • Often Indigenous people are treated as perpetrators and offenders when they need the protection of police.
  • Accountability mechanisms are largely inadequate and perpetuate poor service delivery.
  • Indigenous Peoples have the inherent right to develop their own system of justice.
  • Indigenous police services are chronically underfunded and under-resourced.
  • The criminal justice system struggles to respond effectively to cases of sexualized violence and intimate partner violence.  Current laws and justice system responses are failing to protect Indigenous women and girls.

Beyond the investigation: Access to Justice within the Courts (p.693):  Many families expressed concern that courts further victimize the victims with demeaning and disturbing characterizations and pervasive racialized and sexist stereotypes, while perpetrators are portrayed as “good white men who made a bad mistake.”  Counselling and supports are often lacking. Families often also carry a significant financial burden when attending court. Emotional and financial support are needed.

Trauma, Lack of Accessibility, and Violence against Inuit Women (p.701): Many Inuit witnesses spoke of the need to engage whole communities in healing, especially where women were killed by long-term romantic partners.  Intergenerational trauma and lack of adequate services were contributing factors, resulting in long-standing issues with substance abuse and addictions.