(first published January 13, 2021 in the NSAdvocate.org here )
To: Brenda Lucki, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner, Ottawa, Ont.
I hope I can call you Brenda.
I know you are busy, propping up the RCMP) in whatever way you can—and targeting the “bad apples” that lend your force an undeserved but appalling reputation. I know some say “the Mounties always get their man,” well they do — until they don’t. I guess that is what happened last April in Portapique, Nova Scotia.
But today I’m writing because I’m excited to think our paths may have crossed – at the RCMP Depot in Regina in the early 1990s! Maybe you were in my class!
You see, I was there to give a two-day workshop. At the time, I was on the board of the Saskatoon Sexual Assault Centre and we had a contract with the RCMP depot to give a short course to the new RCMP recruits on sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Frankly by the end of the first afternoon, I kind of knew I was out of my depth. Out of my depth because no one in the class, or even their commanding officer who sat in the classroom with them, told the newbies that they had to respect me, or to listen to me, or to take assault and rape of women seriously.
20 young men recruits, and 2 women
My mistake. After all, how was I to handle the 20 young men, and two women, laughing, pointing and gesturing after just about every statement I made. When I showed the film, “A Matter of Respect” which focused on sexual harassment in the workplace, it received guffaws and snickers. When the “hot” woman in the film came on, some of the recruits made cat-calls. The students refused to break into groups to discuss the film and they didn’t want to answer my questions. They thought they knew way more than I did – and Brenda, they just might have! Though some students had a university degree, others just had high school. Some of the students were married – which (they explained) — proved they were experienced. They cop-splained: they had a reason for why women were attacked, it was what they wore, or what they said. Any male violence was explained by the men and the women’s excessive drinking.
After the coffee break, a couple of gallant male students made sure to open the classroom door for me; I made sure to thank them. Then the students wanted to tell me about their own experience with crisis work, sexual assault and women as rape victims because they thought they could teach me a thing or two. More cop-splaining: bad things happened to women who went alone to bars, or walked home alone. Women who were out at night meant the women were easy targets. For data, the recruits relied on what they had heard, often from other cops. They also tended to blame women for being dressed provocatively, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After class, at my request, a couple of the men agreed to give me a private tour of the RCMP museum. Frankly, even 30 years ago, the museum’s exhibit of the history of the police’s interaction with Indigenous people of western Canada was shocking. That’s putting it mildly. But the most impressive display was the iron handcuffs that the Mounties had clapped on their prisoner, Louis Riel. With white gloves one cadet carefully removed the rusted cuffs and allowed me to hold them. “How’s THAT feel?” he leaned toward me.
Before I could answer, I fumbled and dropped them– accidentally. They landed with a crack on the tile floor. We stared down. Angrily, the cadet snapped at me “That’s why we don’t let just anyone into the museum – you could have broken them!”
Brenda, I hope you will accept my apology for having dropped one the RCMP’s precious artifacts. It wasn’t intentional– I’m sure you can accept that.
List of the latest RCMP apologies by the RCMP– and their refusals to apologize
After all, we Canadians have had to accept former RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli’s 2004 apology for the “role we played in the Residential School system and the abuse that took place in that system.”
And then there was the apology by Commissioner Bob Paulson 10 years later. His 2014 speech at a Truth and Reconciliation event noted he was “deeply sorry for what has happened to [Indigenous people] and the part my organization played in it.”
A year later, in 2015, RCMP Commissioner Paulson had to say sorry about the “shameful “conduct of the RCMP toward hundreds of current and former female officers and employees, in its own ranks, for a toxic work environment which led to incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment. The RCMP had to pay more than $125 million in compensation to the women for crimes ranging from harassment and sexual assault.
In Nov. 2020 you, Brenda, had to apologize for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and homophobia in the ranks of the RCMP. You admitted, “We failed them because they are women… I am angry for these women and their families.” This was after more than 2,300 women joined a class action lawsuit against the Mounties. Notably, you promised to do better.
Still, I can see how someone like you has to stand up for the RCMP. As recently as June 2020, you refused to apologize to Halifax’s Black community for your force’s over-the-top use of street checks. Because police duties in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) are shared between Halifax Police and the RCMP, the Halifax police chief apologized to the Black community in November 2019—but not you.
Speaking on behalf of the RCMP, Cpl. Jennifer Clarke insisted that before you could offer an apology, the RCMP first needed to see the official report on street checks by the national Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, “and determine the way forward from there.” The Civilian Review, which began in April 2018, was expected in March 2020. Today, nearly a year past the deadline, there is still no report, but Cpl Clarke reassured us that the Mounties are “committed to strengthening the relationship between the RCMP and our African Nova Scotian communities.”
Maybe you are waiting for the report to decide whether or not to say you’re sorry.
I guess that also applies to the ugly fiasco by the RCMP that resulted in the deaths of 22 people in Portapique, NS. Perhaps you’re thinking you need not apologize until you see the results of the full public inquiry — and that’s going to be two or more years down the road. With any luck, Brenda, you may be retired by then.
Well – just between you and me — what is a pair of 135 year old handcuffs compared to all that?
Feature Painting: Study for Black Robe, White Education (2017) by Kent Monkman (Canadian).
Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org