A Liberal MLA who has drawn strong criticism for his comments on the need to spend money on policing Indigenous communities instead of supporting Indigenous languages says he has nothing to apologize for.
“I’m standing up for what I believe, from my experience, is required in our rural communities,” said Mike Morris, the MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie who was solicitor general in the former B.C. Liberal government. “I’m not going to apologize for the plight of the people in those communities.”
The $55-billion provincial budget included $50 million to preserve Indigenous languages. In his speech responding to the budget, Morris acknowledged that Indigenous languages are important but questioned the government’s priorities.
“Here we have people suffering every day from alcohol abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and preserving languages is a higher priority than putting that money into extra policing resources,” Morris said. “From a risk management perspective, I think that this really needs to be re-examined.”
Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark said she found Morris’s comments “appalling” and thought he should withdraw them and apologize, while B.C. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen said they were “tone deaf,” reported The Tyee.
Premier John Horgan said, “Mr. Morris comes from law enforcement and he may well fall back to law enforcement as the solution to all problems. I just disagree with him.”
Before entering politics in 2013, Morris worked for 32 years for the RCMP. Over the last nine of those years, he was in charge of policing in the north of the province.
His comments in the legislature were rooted in his experience, Morris said in an interview Wednesday. “Policing resources are insufficient to meet the requirements, and policing is much more than just the criminal part.”
Only about 30 per cent of policing is dealing with crime, he said. “The rest is social, where you’re mediating, you’re counselling, you’re working with band councils, you’re working with people to try and find a better way through things.”
He added, “We wouldn’t have half the murdered and missing women that we have in this country if we’d had more resources on the ground to help those people in the first place. A lot of the sexual abuse that I’ve seen in my time as a police officer - I’ve lived on reserve, I’ve worked on reserve - it goes unreported and a lot of these people live in silence, so we’ve got to provide that help to lift them out of that kind of a lifestyle.”
Morris said he never said the government had to choose between policing and supporting languages. “What my intent of my comments were, was from a risk management perspective. Is the $50 million better spent on languages at this particular time? Or is it better spent in putting those resources into those communities to help them out of the plight they’re in? From my perspective, there’s a real need in those communities for help right now, so that’s where some of the focus should be.”
He said language and culture was at the forefront in every First Nations community he worked in. “I partook in all of the celebrations, so I know the value of that, but I also know the plight that faces a lot of women and children in those communities is not being addressed.”
Asked what he thought of the reaction his remarks had sparked, Morris said, “The comments were made mostly by people who have no idea what policemen do. They look at it as somebody coming into a community and arresting somebody. Policemen participate, like I said, in a lot of social activities.”
Horgan said the support in the budget for Indigenous languages is needed. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission lamented the disappearance of Indigenous languages across the country,” he said.
“British Columbia has the largest number of unique Indigenous languages, and I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to ensure the distinctive cultures of the various nations of British Columbia are protected and preserved.”
The funding will strengthen communities, he said. “I would argue that when you start to address the essence of culture, which is language, you start to get better outcomes in communities. That’s our objective here.”
BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said he supports the funding for Indigenous languages. “Indigenous languages and community security are both priorities, so we expect government to rise to the occasion and address both issues.”
Asked if he agreed with the calls for Morris to apologize, Wilkinson said, “There are different perspectives on these issues and that’s why we have a legislature so these things can be aired.”