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Top Mountie deserves chance to lead reform

From the moment she was named commissioner of Canada’s national police force, Brenda Lucki has been on the hot seat.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/06/2020 (955 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

From the moment she was named commissioner of Canada’s national police force, Brenda Lucki has been on the hot seat.

In 2018, when she became the first woman to permanently take the helm of the RCMP, the force’s reputation had been tarnished by ongoing complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination against female officers and civilian employees.

Those cases continue to wind their way through the courts, but Ms. Lucki has gone on record stating the intimidation these women endured is unacceptable.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki is trying to answer the difficult question of systemic racism within the RCMP, openly and honestly, and struggling with the definition of a complex concept that befuddles many Canadians.(Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

But the commissioner’s seat became even hotter this week when a Saskatchewan senator demanded she resign or be replaced following comments she made about systemic racism in the RCMP.

In one national interview, Ms. Lucki said she was “struggling” with the term systemic racism and had heard “15 or 20 definitions” of it, adding she couldn’t say for certain whether that form of racism exists within the force she leads.

Two days later, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the RCMP and other police agencies have a problem with systemic racism, she walked back her initial remarks.

“I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP,” Ms. Lucki said in a media statement. “I should have.”

But that change of mind wasn’t good enough for Sen. Lillian Dyck, who stated on Monday the commissioner’s “about-face” proves she doesn’t have the “necessary knowledge or skills” to remain Canada’s top cop.

In a written statement, the senator said the RCMP commissioner should either step down or be removed immediately. “Her recent statements show that she does not fully understand what systemic racism is; thus, she will not be able to implement or envision the way forward to eliminate systemic racism in the RCMP,” Ms. Dyck asserted.

“I have confidence in Commissioner Lucki and I know that the changes that she has already begun to bring to our national police force, and the work that we’re going to be doing together in the coming months, is going to make a huge difference in combating systemic racism and reducing it in this country.”– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Mr. Trudeau was quick to defend Lucki, stating, “I have confidence in Commissioner Lucki and I know that the changes that she has already begun to bring to our national police force, and the work that we’re going to be doing together in the coming months, is going to make a huge difference in combating systemic racism and reducing it in this country.”

It is understandable Ms. Dyck, a member of the Progressive Senate Group and the first First Nations woman named to the upper chamber, would be concerned by Ms. Lucki’s reversal. It comes as the world is witnessing an unprecedented wave of protests against police brutality and discrimination directed at Black and Indigenous people.

But making Ms. Lucki a sacrificial lamb would be counter-productive. It would suggest no one is capable of learning and growing in their job. This is a sensitive time, and words do matter, but no one is well served by ousting a respected leader who, in hindsight, might have phrased something better.

In her media interviews, Ms. Lucki was not downplaying the existence of racism; she was trying to answer a difficult question openly and honestly, and struggling with the definition of a complex concept that befuddles many Canadians.

The top Mountie did say the right thing — it just took her a couple of extra days to do it. To her credit, she was not simply offering a pat answer to a difficult question, which is critical, because when it comes to systemic racism, there are no easy answers. Of even greater import, however, will be the reforms she undertakes in the aftermath of her thoughtfully revised response.

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