Kwanlin Dun to cops: heal yourselves

If the RCMP wants to improve the deep mistrust felt toward the force by Yukon's native population, Kwanlin Dun First Nation has a few suggestions. Hire more mature recruits. Keep them for longer stints in communities.

If the RCMP wants to improve the deep mistrust felt toward the force by Yukon’s native population, Kwanlin Dun First Nation has a few suggestions.

Hire more mature recruits. Keep them for longer stints in communities. And provide cultural-sensitivity training so that officers better understand the tangled knot of social woes that results in the drunken, drug-addled abuse that RCMP routinely respond to on patrol.

The First Nation also envisions having its liaisons riding along with RCMP officers and helping supervise the drunk tank.

These suggestions come from a 38-page report prepared by Kwanlin Dun for a territorial task force reviewing RCMP conduct. It includes comments from 105 anonymous respondents who were interviewed or surveyed in August.

“I have empathy for RCMP members always dealing with drunk people,” said the rare respondent who had a positive view of the police. “They need more resources and helping.”

“RCMP need to deal with their feelings,” said another. “They carry anger and it builds if they don’t catch it – seems like they are twice as hard on you if they are angry – they need counselling for the stuff they deal with.”

Most respondents took far dimmer views of the force. A large portion of the report alleges all manner of abuse.

“The RCMP can beat and murder the First Nation person and get away with it,” said one person. “Harley Timmers was murdered - three bullets – one in the head and two in the chest and they call it self-defence. Harley did not have a gun and neither was he reaching for a handgun.”

What goes unmentioned is that Timmers, 23, was choking an RCMP officer from behind, following a car and foot chase, when the officer shot him in 1998.

“People are being taken at 40 below and dropped off at Fish Lake and told to walk back,” said another respondent. “There is a general sense that the only reason that there have not been deaths is due to the resilience and resourcefulness of those targeted.”

“They have replaced taking us in the back alley and beating us with flashlights to letting their dogs tear us up and using Tasers,” said another.

Others complain that disobedient women are punished with strip searches, that drunks are provoked and ridiculed, and that those who complain about officers run the risk of reprisal.

The report also offers a glimpse into the gritty world that is the Kwanlin Dun village. According to respondents, it’s a place where drunks are harassed by police while crack dealers operate with impunity.

“They don’t do anything about the drug dealers or the bootleggers,” said one respondent. “The young kids are getting hooked on crack because nothing is being done about the crack houses,” said another.

“You see the RCMP up here parked at the band office during the day, but they are not here at night when they are needed.”

One elder was asked to accompany RCMP around town. “I refused because I am worried that the drug dealers will think that I am a snitch and target me or my family – it is not safe to be seen with them.”

Those who speak to the police are ostracized, said another respondent. “Get rid of that old ‘rat’ mentality.”

“As an elder, I feel I have very little protection – drunk people try to break in and I am defenceless. When I call for help it takes 20 minutes or more for the police to arrive.”

Since the residential school payouts, “things have been so much worse,” said another.

The community’s problems run far deeper than policing, others acknowledged. Parenting needs to improve, too.

“Some of our kids are racists towards the cops and the racism seems to be getting worse,” said one.

“I was raised here and used to be in the jail house a few times,” said another respondent. “My dad said to me in our language that even if I was drinking, I had to ‘watch myself’- the parents need to talk to the children and just like me, they will behave themselves.”

“Community needs to start changing, start helping instead of criticizing – the youth need motivation and life skills courses,” said another person.

Some respondents longed for the days when RCMP members lived in communities long enough to form meaningful bonds with residents.

Today, the force is demoralized and short on recruits. As a result, members tend to be young and to stay for short periods before being transferred.

“Recruit more First Nation police,” suggested one person. But being a cop is a thankless job, particularly if you’re of First Nation descent.

Aboriginal RCMP members are slammed by other respondents as having lost touch with their traditional cultures. Many “look white and grew up white,” said one person.

“We need cops who have lived the native life. Most of them don’t know the first thing about culture or the way of life because they have never lived it.”

Another respondent wished the force still hired special constables – a rank given to aboriginal members who didn’t meet the educational requirements to be a full member.

These positions were discontinued because it was thought to be racist to assume that First Nations could only meet lower standards.

“The problem is that once you meet the educational standards of the RCMP in order to get in, you think more mainstream because you have gone too far down the road with their education – they have lost the connection to culture and traditional people.”

Others suggested that the Kwanlin Dun should start its own police force. A tribal police force existed in the 1970s. A failed effort was made to revive the force in the 1990s.

The RCMP won’t respond to any criticisms raised by the report until the review is complete, said Sgt. Don Rogers. The review’s task force has until the new year to prepare a report for the territorial government.

The task force was created following a damning coroner’s inquest into the death of Raymond Silverfox, a 43-year-old Carmacks man who died in RCMP custody in December of 2008.

At the April inquest, it came to light that RCMP guards mocked and ridiculed the First Nation man as he lay dying in the drunk tank. He died from acute pneumonia after being locked up for 13 hours.

Public confidence in the force had been shaken earlier by the March trial of two Mounties in Watson Lake charged with sexual assault. They were acquitted.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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