Following the release of a civilian report outlining Indigenous residents' lack of trust in the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, the police force's chief is defending his officers
Chief Pat Roche responded Wednesday to two separate reports this week — one from St. John's-based Indigenous advocacy group First Voice and a separate workplace review by Toronto lawyer Harriet Lewis.
The First Voice draft report — the final report is expected in the fall — found a gaping hole in police accountability in Newfoundland and Labrador and years of examples that illustrate the province's urban Indigenous population's lack of trust in local police.
But Roche said Wednesday there's no systemic racism in the RNC.
"I don't believe there is and I'll leave it at that," he said.
But Roche also said — twice — that he has not read the First Voice report and it wouldn't be "appropriate" for him to comment.
It's a problem that isn't unique to Newfoundland and Labrador; it extends Canada-wide and was addressed at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which issued its report in 2019.
In a recent interview with CBC News, Catherine Fagan, co-chair of the First Voice Working Group on Police Oversight, said the inquiry identified what they called "the failure of the police to act to protect Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women and girls."
The inquiry also discussed systemic problems in policing that need to be addressed immediately, noted Fagan, including urging provinces to create Indigenous oversight bodies that observe investigations into any case involving an Indigenous person and train officers in cultural sensitivity and racial bias. But as far as First Voice knows, she said, no such body is in the works for Newfoundland and Labrador.
On Wednesday, First Voice responded to Roche's comment in an emailed statement.
"There can be no doubt that systemic racism exists in police forces across Canada, including the RNC," says the statement.
"For years, Indigenous women especially have been subjected to extreme levels of violence in the face of police inaction. They are at least 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing compared to non-Indigenous Canadians."
For years, First Voice said, members of its own community in St. John's have told them they feel targeted, over-policed, and underserved by law enforcement.
In its statement, First Voice invited Roche to listen to the voices of the Indigenous community, to review the findings of the national inquiry and proposals for change, and then to "reconsider whether his police force is the exception and not the rule."