North's Black advocacy coalition meets with N.W.T. Justice Minister, RCMP

·4 min read
Ambe Chenemu is the chairman and one of the founders of BACupNORTH, an advocacy group that represents the interests of Black Northerners. (Submitted by Ambe Chenemu - image credit)
Ambe Chenemu is the chairman and one of the founders of BACupNORTH, an advocacy group that represents the interests of Black Northerners. (Submitted by Ambe Chenemu - image credit)

Black Advocacy Coalition Up North (BACupNorth) met with RCMP and the N.W.T. government to discuss how to improve the relationship between racialized Northerners, police and the justice system.

The coalition met with Justice Minister R.J. Simpson and the N.W.T. RCMP's chief superintendent Jamie Zettler this March.

They discussed the urgency of collecting race-based data, community safety pilot programs, mental health, corrections, legal aid, and barriers to reintegration for incarcerated people.

The parties discussed the N.W.T. government's hiring practices, and the importance of measuring the outcomes of new training and cultural awareness programs designed to combat racial bias.

BACupNorth president Ambe Chenemu told The Trailbreaker how the meeting went, and what the coalition will push for in future meetings to advance racial justice in the N.W.T.

Data crucial to change, says BACupNorth president

Currently, the RCMP does not collect race-based data, said Chenemu.

He said that makes it difficult to push for change.

"We're really pushing [for] a new way to collect data … so we can look for appropriate solutions to what the data is telling us," he said.

Justice Minister R.J. Simpson said he will support inquiries about efforts to improve race-based data collection at the federal level.
Justice Minister R.J. Simpson said he will support inquiries about efforts to improve race-based data collection at the federal level. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

N.W.T. Justice Minister R.J. Simpson committed to update BACupNORTH about national efforts to change how Statistics Canada collects data and discuss it with his federal counterparts.

"I am pleased with these first steps and look forward to continuing to engage in these constructive discussions with BACupNorth and the RCMP as we work together to address systemic racism," Simpson said.

The meeting focused on making recruitment and hiring reflective of the North's diversity, and accountability measures for cultural awareness and anti-racism programs designed to combat racial bias.

They discussed how N.W.T. jails release inmates from their incarceration without adequately preparing them with transition programs, and the need for effective community outreach programs.

Chenemu said people do not get adequate representation or legal aid and that the territorial government should actively provide that support.

Changes to policing, crisis intervention

Jamie Zettler, chief superintendent of the N.W.T. RCMP has said the trust of Indigenous and Black communities is 'very important' to police and that building it up is an ongoing process.
Jamie Zettler, chief superintendent of the N.W.T. RCMP has said the trust of Indigenous and Black communities is 'very important' to police and that building it up is an ongoing process. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

The coalition also discussed the need to bring more empathy and diverse resources into policing. This includes options such as reallocating money to intervention.

N.W.T. RCMP Chief Superintendent Jamie Zettler said his police force is "committed to engage with community groups, and looks forward to developing a relationship with the newly formed BACupNorth."

Long list of potential reforms

The coalition will meet with police and the justice department again in the fall of 2021.

It will give the parties an opportunity to discuss issues like RCMP investigating themselves and what alternatives to this kind of oversight could be, Chenemu said.

"BACupNorth is committed to advocate for justice, equity, equal representation and opportunity for Black and minority communities in the North. It is our duty to hold ourselves, our leaders and institutions accountable and we will deliver on that duty," Chenemu said.

In the future, the coalition will discuss other issues central to racial justice, such as the curriculum we teach our children, wellness checks, mental health and how people are treated when they walk into a hospital setting, he said.

"We are not treated the same in health care," Chenemu said, who argues in favour of data collection to capture how people of colour are treated in these systems.

'Together we are stronger'

Once the restrictions of COVID-19 subside and more in-person meetings are possible, the coalition looks forward to forming more advocacy relationships with Indigenous groups, and speaking up on issues including missing and murdered Indigenous women, Chenemu said.

"We are here on Indigenous land and Indigenous territory ... advocating for Black people [and] minorities, we like to show our gratitude and our appreciation for the Indigenous community allowing us to be here and to do this work," he said, adding that raising the profile of anti-Black racism also means discussing the racism directed at Indigenous people.

"Different communities face their own challenges but there are definitely a lot of similarities in the way we experience this process and how change in one direction could affect some good resolutions," he said.

"Together we are stronger."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

<cite>(CBC)</cite>
(CBC)