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Indigenous leaders called for the national police force to take an honest look at its history and the deeply rooted reasons that many Indigenous people do not trust officers.Brett Beadle/The Globe and Mail

An evaluation of the RCMP’s progress on reconciliation found challenges that include a need for more Indigenous employees across the organization and a decline in Indigenous enrolment at the force’s training academy in Regina.

The document is a look at the organization’s ability to advance reconciliation efforts over five fiscal years, from 2016-2017 to 2020-21. It looked at activities within RCMP national headquarters and contract divisions. The force said in a summary of the report that the findings were made after 50 interviews with people it called RCMP stakeholders, a review of 120 internal documents, internal surveys and an analysis of news media coverage.

Work within the RCMP toward reconciliation has been a major focus for Indigenous leaders. They have called for the national police force to take an honest look at its history and the deeply rooted reasons that many Indigenous people do not trust officers. Part of the mistrust stems from the fact that Mounties were involved in removing Indigenous children from their homes and transporting them to residential schools, according to the leaders. Several high-profile incidents in recent years have contributed to questions about mistreatment by officers, such as force used during the 2020 arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam over an expired license plate.

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The same year, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki faced demands for her resignation after she said she struggled with the term “systemic racism” as it applied to her force. She later acknowledged that racism does exist within the RCMP. The force has indicated it wants to earn the trust and confidence of Indigenous communities.

The RCMP’s review says that colonialism continues to affect the relationship, as well as opportunities for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“While steps have been taken in recent decades to remediate injustices in approaches to policing in Indigenous communities, the RCMP’s historical law enforcement role continues to result in a sense of mistrust and fear of police by Indigenous peoples in Canada,” the document states.

As a central finding, the evaluation said the RCMP has been “increasingly advancing reconciliation” in efforts such as increased engagement with Indigenous organizations and communities that have helped to foster trust. It also said there have been changes to improve Indigenous cultural knowledge, such as a mandatory online course in cultural awareness and humility.

As well, the review identified a number of challenge areas, such as the need to address a decline in Indigenous enrolment at the RCMP training academy in Regina, and overall representation within the ranks.

The document said Indigenous representation among RCMP members has been slowly decreasing for the past decade. Between 2010 and 2020, Indigenous enrolment in the cadet training program declined from 6 per cent to 4 per cent, and Indigenous representation within the RCMP dropped from 8 per cent to 7 per cent.

The review said some internal interviewees and survey respondents cited contributing factors such as barriers that limited recruitment, anticipated retirements, mental health and wellness challenges and a lack of career development opportunities.

The evaluation said the RCMP has no national strategic plan for reconciliation to set out the priorities and how to address them over the long term. It also states many Indigenous knowledge-keepers and elders who were interviewed, as well as staff, indicated that simply having a strategic plan would not significantly affect reconciliation.

“They emphasized that, locally, reconciliation is about how police officers and staff work with communities,” the document states.

The review also underscored gaps in the force’s reconciliation efforts with Indigenous employees, including an absence of an active employee network to “inform Indigenous led-solutions.” Among its recommendations, the review suggests recruitment and retention practices need to be looked at to improve representation of Indigenous employees.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Canada’s institutions have a role to play in reconciliation and this is “especially significant for the RCMP, given its unique relationship with Indigenous peoples past, present and future.

“These important efforts will acknowledge the RCMP’s role in colonialism, address the challenges of the current relationship and chart a course to rebuild trust with Indigenous communities,” he said in a statement.

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