The chief of a New Brunswick First Nation has asked members of his community to refrain from speaking to the media about a police shooting Friday that claimed the life of a local Indigenous man, saying an independent investigation into what happened is under way.
Chief Bill Ward of the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation issued a statement on Facebook on Sunday, saying he was responding to a request from the family of the victim, 48-year-old Rodney Levi.
“I, as well, will respect this request at this time,” Ward said in a brief post.
Ward, who took part in a live, hour-long Facebook session on Saturday, says investigators from Quebec’s independent police watchdog agency – the Quebec Bureau of Independent Investigations – are working with family members to determine if charges should be laid against the RCMP. The Quebec agency is investigating because no such unit exists in New Brunswick.
“Please respect this investigation,” Ward said in his post. “The family will reach out to the media when they are ready.”
On Friday night, the RCMP say they received a complaint about an “unwanted person” at a home near Metepenagiag, about 30 kilometres west of Miramichi.
The Mounties say that when officers arrived, they were confronted by a man carrying knives, and there were several failed bids to subdue him with a stun gun. That’s when Levi was fatally shot by an officer. He was declared dead in hospital around 9 p.m. local time.
On Saturday, Ward said Levi was attending a barbecue, where he had planned to seek guidance from a church minister.
Ward described Levi as a troubled man who was seeking help with his mental health, but the chief insisted he was not violent.
“He had his demons but he was always very friendly,” Ward said Saturday. “He never tried to harm anybody … He wasn’t some monster that they’re going to try to paint him to be.”
A spokesman for the New Brunswick RCMP said Sunday no one was available to comment on the case.
It was the second time that a police officer had fatally shot an Indigenous person in New Brunswick in less than a month.
On June 4, 26-year-old Chantel Moore was shot by an officer with the Edmundston Police Department.
The municipal police department later said an officer performing a wellness check allegedly encountered a woman with a knife.
Moore, from a First Nation in British Columbia, had moved to the community in northwestern New Brunswick to be closer to her mother and young daughter.
The Quebec Bureau of Independent Investigations has also been called in to investigate Moore’s killing.
“In order not to compromise the integrity and the impartiality of its investigation, the (bureau) keeps confidential the facts and information it deems sensitive and does not comment on the events that it is responsible for investigating,” the agency said in a statement released Saturday.
There have been calls for a broader inquiry to examine systemic racism in the province’s policing and criminal justice systems. New Brunswick’s minister of Aboriginal affairs, Jake Stewart, has said he supports the call, saying the province has a problem with systemic racism.
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