07/31/2019 13:29 EDT

Greg Rickford, Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister, Criticized For Posing In Bulletproof Vest

It’s the second time one of Doug Ford’s ministers has been called insensitive for wearing a bulletproof vest.

Handout/Kenora Online
Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford poses with a police officer in Kenora, Ont.

Ontario’s minister of Indigenous affairs is being criticized for wearing a bulletproof vest in his own riding and for saying that residents want “our city back” from “transient folks” who don’t obey the law.

Minister Greg Rickford, who represents the northwestern constituency of Kenora—Rainy River, made the comments in an interview with Kenora Online.

“We want our city back,” he said. “What we see is a number of transient folks, who do their business and act outside of the law, and they’re very difficult — obviously — to deal with.”

We want our city back.Minister Greg Rickford

The article says police and businesses owners have noticed an uptick in crime and drug use by young people “who appear to be homeless after aging out of the child welfare system.” It was published under a photo of Rickford in a bulletproof vest.

More than 3,000 of Kenora’s 15,000 residents are Indigenous.

‘It gets my back up’

Garnet Angeconeb, a residential school survivor and member of the Lac Seul First Nation, was “definitely offended at first glance,” he told HuffPost Canada.

“Seeing that, it gets my back up,” he said. 

Angeconeb lives in Sioux Lookout, Ont. in the neighbouring riding of Kiiwetinoong. He said many northern municipalities, including Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay, are experiencing the same issues as Kenora. 

“Certainly as an Anishinaabe person, as an Indigenous person, I know the depth of where these issues come from ... They are deep-rooted and they are very complex.”

Garnet Angeconeb is an Anishinaabe man and and residential school survivor. He says Minister Greg Rickford is sending a bad message to Indigenous people in northern Ontario.

He said that blaming the north’s problems on people with addictions and mental illnesses oversimplifies the issue. The root problem is colonialism, he said, and the “historical trauma” caused by residential schools and the child welfare system.

“Dialogue can be tough. It can be so easy to get into a divide,” Angeconeb said. “We don’t need negative messaging at the offset.”

Dialogue can be tough. It can be so easy to get into a divide.Garnet Angeconeb

When asked for comment by HuffPost Canada, a spokeswoman for Rickford did not address Angeconeb’s concerns but said the minister was wearing a bulletproof vest because he was going on a ride-along with police. 

“It is standard practice for anyone participating in a police ride-along to wear a bulletproof vest,” Sydney Stonier said in an email. “Ride-alongs provide an opportunity to learn about the experiences of our frontline police officers.”

A spokeswoman for the Ontario Provincial Police confirmed that any person going on a ride-along is provided with a bulletproof vest.

Rickford said he is working with police, health agencies and the local school board to “protect our community’s most vulnerable people,” in a statement posted to Facebook Tuesday. 

“The safety of residents and visitors in downtown Kenora continues to be of great concern to myself, and to many who have experienced escalating vandalism, violence and evidence of drug use,” he wrote. “My office has received an enormous volume of serious complaints, concerns and calls for a solution to these matters that are of serious concern for public safety.”

PCs are hurting reconciliation efforts, Angeconeb says

Angeconeb said this isn’t the first time Rickford’s Progressive Conservative government has undermined reconciliation with Indigenous people. 

He noted that when the government came to power, it eliminated the standalone ministry for Indigenous Affairs and combined it with Rickford’s other portfolio, which is energy, northern development and mines. He also said Premier Doug Ford was “visibly absent” when other premiers met with national Indigenous leaders in Debden, Sask. on July 9.

“I’m not sure where the Ontario government is with reconciliation in general,” Angeconeb said. 

“How serious are they?”

Last July, another minister in Ford’s government, Michael Tibollo, was criticized for wearing a bulletproof vest in Jane and Finch, a predominantly black neighbourhood in Toronto.

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