Jamie Zettler, commanding officer of the NWT RCMP presented to MLAs on Friday the work the force is undertaking to reach its goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“I believe G Division excels in (community engagement and cultural orientation) better than any other division in Canada,” Zettler told MLAs in a standing committee on social development meeting about policing in the NWT.

Yellowknife detachment staff attend cultural camps to learn about Dene culture and history and all G Division employees must take online Indigenous cultural awareness courses to better understand cultural practices, he explained.

Reconciliation with Indigenous people is a priority for the NWT RCMP, whose goal is to “to foster an environment of trust, collaboration and open communication with Indigenous citizens.”

RCMP notes lack of trust

“We acknowledge that barriers exist in pursuit of reconciliation (and there is) a lack of trust towards RCMP. We will work with Indigenous groups to better understand historical events and their impacts. We require detachment commanders to reach out to representative groups, maintain training requirements, update missing persons policies (and) increase involvements with communities.”

The commanding officer said that reconciliation and diversity goals seek to have police services reflect the diversity of the NWT, however the data he cited shows a demographic divergence between women and Indigenous members of the force since 2017.

Eight per cent of RCMP Indigenous

In 2020, about eight per cent of NWT RCMP self-identified as Indigenous, or 17 members, down from 22 members in 2017.

About 20 per cent of the force – or 42 members – identify as women in 2020, an increase from the 30 members in 2017.

“This is an increase of 75 per cent since 2015,” he said, though the information he presented on a slide only went back as far as 2017.

“It’s an acknowledgement that these statistics change on a regular basis and increase and decrease based on transfers in and out of members,” Zettler said.

Police oversight avenues

In the NWT, there is no independent police investigating body but Zettler pointed out “that doesn’t mean RCMP doesn’t have oversight. Oversight comes in the form of courts, legislative processes, inquests, media, civil processes, political debates, as well as the media.”

An internal policy was developed by the RCMP in 2011 for external reviews to fill the void from a lack of an independent investigating agency.

In addition, the federal Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) can handle complaints about policing services at local detachments or online by senior RCMP officers. Resolutions can be done informally or through formal channels.

The RCMP aims to resolve complaints within 90 days of receiving them, Zettler said, and in 2019 the NWT force took about 96 to clear up most complaints. It took 109 days in 2020.

“I’d like to think that’s associated to the pandemic,” Zettler said. “NWT has the highest amount of informal resolutions done across the country. People can ask for an independent review by the CRCC if they’re not happy with an investigation.”

More calls for service amid Covid-19

There has been a higher volume of calls for police services each month since the Covid-19 pandemic began compared to 2019, particularly in the south and Yellowknife districts.

“Police are being asked to deal more with social disorder offenses that don’t necessarily involve criminal offenses. (But) occurrence volumes have decreased in some areas probably associated to residents not being out and about,” Zettler said.

It’s possible Covid-19 is related to an increase in calls for family violence issues but that connection can’t be confirmed yet, he noted.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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