PM says reconciliation efforts will be a big factor in choosing next RCMP commissioner

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki looks on during Canada Day celebrations at Lebreton Flats in Ottawa, on Friday, July 1, 2022. Her last day in the job is March 17. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki looks on during Canada Day celebrations at Lebreton Flats in Ottawa, on Friday, July 1, 2022. Her last day in the job is March 17. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says appointing an Indigenous person as the next RCMP commissioner is an "excellent idea," but he's looking to appoint the "right" leader regardless of their background.

During a news conference Friday, Trudeau was asked to respond to calls for Ottawa to hire an Indigenous commissioner for the first time ever. Proponents of the idea see it as a way to heal the sometimes fraught relationship between the national police force and Indigenous communities.

"I think it's an excellent idea … We should absolutely look at more diversity, we should absolutely look at bringing forward Indigenous voices to lead those institutions," he said.

"I look forward to doing the important work of figuring out who would be the right leader to be the next commissioner of the RCMP, regardless of their background."

WATCH |Ottawa will take 'Indigenous representation' into account selecting new RCMP head: Trudeau

Indigenous representation within the RCMP has been slowly declining for the last decade. That means the available pool of Indigenous candidates within the RCMP is not large.

According to 2021 figures, seven per cent of regular RCMP members identified as Indigenous.

The Mounties do not publish data on the number of women, people of colour or Indigenous people in its higher ranks, citing "confidentiality of employee self-identification data."

Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said focusing on attracting Indigenous recruits as junior officers won't be enough to combat what he calls bias and systemic racism within the RCMP.

"We'd like to call upon the prime minister of Canada and those in power with the RCMP to appoint a First Nations commissioner to address the historic injustices of the RCMP and provide an unbiased approach to policing Indigenous people," he said in a media statement last month.

"We know change must come from the top down and our people need to be granted the opportunity to hold management positions."

Trudeau says there will be a 'robust process'

Trudeau said the government will set up an independent process to replace Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who last month announced she will be retiring.

"We're going to commit to a proper, robust process that will find the best possible person to deal with a range of concerns that Canadians are facing, but of course making sure that reconciliation is at the heart of what we do to improve the RCMP moving forward. It's going to be a significant factor we take into account," he said.

"It's not just about putting the right person at the top of an organization that makes systemic change necessary."

Lucki's last day in the job is March 17. In a letter to staff announcing her retirement, she called her decision a personal one.

"I don't enjoy the 'would have,' 'should have' or 'could have' game," she wrote. "Of course there are things I could have done differently, but I leave knowing I did my best and take comfort that the RCMP is well placed to shine in its 150th year."

The past few years have not been easy on the outgoing commissioner.

Lucki came in for criticism in 2020 when she told some media outlets she was "struggling" to define the term when asked if there was systemic racism in the RCMP.

She later said she believes systemic racism exists in the force.

In 2017, the Liberals struck an outside committee, chaired by former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, to consider candidates to replace Bob Paulson as commissioner. The committee tapped Lucki for the job in 2018.

The public safety minister has said a transition plan will be announced soon.