Building trust between a community and police is essential to addressing the extraordinarily high numbers of sexualized assaults and violence in the Yukon. Without this relationship, women at risk and women who have experienced violence are less likely to reach out to the police for support or to report crimes.
When a breakdown of trust and the relationship between community members and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was threatening the safety and well-being of community members in Watson Lake, the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS) knew something needed to be done. Fast.
Ann Maje Raider, the Executive Director of LAWS, was one of the people behind a unique community safety initiative. Called Together for Justice, the initiative aimed to repair and rebuild the broken relationship and public distrust in order to extinguish the violence in the community.
“(Together for Justice) was more about the process, the journey, getting to know each other, getting to know Kaska women and our community,” said Raider.
The project created spaces for dialogue between community members, RCMP, justice, and local service providers. Through the conversations, RCMP and service providers developed an enriched knowledge of services and service expectations that would best support women who have experienced violence. The conversations also aimed to build understanding and mutual trust.
Raider said that one of the most important things that came out of the effort was that RCMP members began approaching the community with no preconceived notions of who Kaska people are and became open to learning about the community. Since the very first gathering, community members voiced the need for the RCMP to be a part of the community. In response, RCMP members in Watson Lake began to attend community events, visit schools, and learn from Elders about the customs and history of the Liard First Nations’ people.
Raider recalled a successful past gathering at Francis Lake, which she felt really helped the RCMP gain a better understanding of Kaska people and specifically Aboriginal women.
Together for Justice has accomplished a lot in building trust and communication between the community and the RCMP.
Raider said that while there used to be zero contact between the community and RCMP, there was now an effort by RCMP to use response-based practices to respond to victims with dignity in order to create a climate where victims of violence are willing and comfortable reporting the crime.
Other key outcomes for Watson Lake and the Kaska community is the ongoing two-way relationship between LAWS and the RCMP. The RCMP consult with the organization on priorities, are open to ad-hoc meetings at any time, and included the organization in the recent hiring of the local sergeant. Raider felt that all First Nations should have this level of involvement in the selection of their community’s sergeants, constables and corporals.
The RCMP is also now a part of the advisory for the Youth for Dignity program, a gender-based project that is looking to start in the local school in the fall. Raider noted that the youth involved would be able to decide when they desire input from the RCMP.
The project has marked a new era for policing and community safety in Yukon. The space for dialogue and collaboration was created. Since the project was initiated in 2011 and the Together for Justice protocol signed in 2013, the relationship between the community and RCMP has led to many positive outcomes.
While RCMP, LAWS and the community continue to work toward building and strengthening the relationships and communications, there are challenges that threaten the project. Raider said that current funding made it difficult to continue to provide cultural teachings with Elders and community members to the RCMP.
Anne Maje Raider signed the Together for Justice protocol on International Women’s Day in 2013