The Council of Yukon First Nations has changed its tune about the Yukon police council.
In February, it lambasted the government for appointing just one of its three recommended members to the organization. Now Grand Chief Ruth Massie describes the blow-up as a simple misunderstanding – but one she hopes doesn’t happen again.
The police council is the product of a territory-wide review that aimed to improve relations between aboriginal people and the RCMP.
That relationship has never been a good one, but it hit new lows following two incidents in 2008 and 2009.
In 2008, Raymond Silverfox, a Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nations citizen, died of pneumonia after spending 13 hours in the Whitehorse RCMP lockup. Guards ridiculed him and left him lying in his own vomit, feces and urine during the last hours of his life.
In 2009, two RCMP officers in Watson Lake were accused of raping an intoxicated woman. They were later acquitted, relocated, and the internal disciplinary hearing was never held, as police initially promised the public.
The police council was supposed to help make things better. But First Nations believed they would appoint half of the council’s members, and were upset when that didn’t happen.
It came down to a misinterpretation, said Massie during a May 10 interview.
“There was one word in those terms of reference that the minister took to heart – that he made the appointments. I think it is a misunderstanding. It just comes down to interpretation.”
Usually, the government heeds the council’s advice for board and committee appointments, said Massie.
But Justice Minister Mike Nixon defended the appointments. He referred to the police council’s terms of reference, which states “the minister of Justice will appoint six members,” and that three of those member will be “nominated” by First Nations.
For First Nations, that was a formality. They had participated as equals in the entire police review and approved the terms of reference.
Each of the 14 First Nations advertised the appointments and made their own picks. Of those, the chiefs selected three.
But confusion arose when the council later sent a larger package of applications to Nixon’s office. The chiefs did this in the hope that the government would consider them for the territory’s three picks, said Massie.
Instead, Nixon’s office put all applications, including the First Nations’ three selections, into one pot to pick all six council members from.
A face-to-face meeting with Nixon is needed before the next appointments, Massie said.
“He’s going to get our perspective and what our expectations are,” she said. “When we’re asked to be partners, that means true partners. Otherwise, why bother?”
The police council’s members serve terms of up to three years, and a half-year has almost passed already, she added.
“It’s kind of a pilot test right now,” said Massie.
On May 9, Massie, Nixon and the RCMP issued a news release that lauded signs of progress over the past year. That includes the formation of a domestic violence and sexualized assault committee, the agreement to bring in the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team to investigate serious charges against the territory’s RCMP, and construction of a new “arrest-processing unit” at the new jail to replace the old drunk tank downtown.
“It’s been a good relationship building exercise all the way around,” said Massie. “We have a very good relationship with the RCMP commander, and I don’t think any process is perfect. But if you don’t dialogue about it, how are you going to know?
“There is room for improvement. We definitely have to come to an understanding. And we will be on top of it.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org