Indigenous leaders across the country are demanding answers and changes to police training after a young mother in New Brunswick was shot to death by an officer sent to check on her well-being.
Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old originally from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation near Tofino, B.C., was shot five times by an Edmundston Police Force officer performing a “wellness check,” according to her family. She had moved to the mill town in northeastern New Brunswick just a few months ago to be closer to her mother and daughter.
Municipal police in the city of about 16,500 said the shooting was in self-defence, saying the officer was “confronted at the scene by a woman holding a knife who made threats.”
“He had no choice but to defend himself,” Edmundston Police Inspector Steve Robinson told reporters.
The shooting has prompted anger across the country – throughout Ms. Moore’s community on Vancouver Island, among national Indigenous leaders and federal politicians in Ottawa.
Her family flew from British Columbia to New Brunswick on Friday to prepare for her funeral. They said COVID-19-related restrictions prevented them from bringing her body back home to the West Coast.
Her grandmother said Ms. Moore, who was small in stature, couldn’t have endangered a police officer to the point he needed to use lethal force. Quebec’s independent police watchdog is investigating the incident, because New Brunswick doesn’t have its own police-oversight agency.
“I don’t believe this. They were going there to check on her, not kill her,” Grace Frank, Ms. Moore’s grandmother, said in a Facebook post. “Self-defence is what [the police officer] says and she is not here to defend herself. I don’t believe.”
Ms. Moore’s family says her boyfriend called police from Toronto when he was concerned she was being harassed and scared for her safety. The officer showed up at her apartment around 2:30 a.m. Thursday. Within minutes, she was dead.
While there is a lack of reliable data on police-related deaths and race across Canada, a recent access-to-information request revealed more than a third of people shot to death by RCMP officers between 2007 and 2017 were Indigenous, despite Indigenous people only making up 5 per cent of the population.
It’s rare for a woman to be killed in a police shooting – just two of the 61 deaths caused by the RCMP in that same time frame were female.
Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde said he spoke with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki on Thursday to push for a full, independent investigation into the shooting, calling it a tragedy.
Incidents like Ms. Moore’s death and the recent video of an Inuk man in Nunavut knocked down by an RCMP cruiser door make it difficult for Indigenous people to trust the police, Chief Bellegarde said.
“You call police for protection, you call police for service and with what happened in New Brunswick and what happened in Nunavut, there’s going to be that fear, that built-up fear, ‘Well there’s no sense calling the police because something might happen in a bad way,’ ” he said.
Chief Bellegarde said what’s most alarming about these cases is the continued pattern of violence against Indigenous people by police. Canada has had many reviews into violence against Indigenous people – from the Neil Stonechild inquiry in Saskatchewan, after Saskatoon police dumped a Saulteaux First Nations teenager in the middle of winter to walk back home, to the Royal Commission of Aboriginal People and inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
None of those reports have brought meaningful changes for Indigenous people, he said.
“It concerns me that out of all of the reviews that we’ve had in Canada, when will governments start implementing some of those recommendations?” he said.
Marc Miller, Canada’s Indigenous Services Minister, told reporters in Ottawa he thought the shooting in New Brunswick was some kind of “morbid joke” when he first learned about it.
“I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check," he said. “I’m pissed, I’m outraged. There needs to be a full accounting of what has gone on. This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself.”
Primer Minister Justin Trudeau said he was concerned about what he was seeing around police brutality involving Indigenous people.
“The videos and reports that have surfaced from across the country over the past few days are disturbing and they bring to light the systemic realities facing far too many Canadians,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr. Trudeau said he plans to raise the issue with cabinet and the RCMP commissioner, and will press that the cases are investigated properly.
Ms. Moore’s shooting happened during a week when Canadians are already protesting police violence against Black people, and tens of thousands of Americans are still in the streets demonstrating after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.
“Indigenous mothers in Canada have something awful in common with Black mothers. When our children fail to return home at the expected time, our hearts are in our chests. Were they picked up by the police? Were they hurt by the police?” said Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
First Nations leaders in British Columbia issued a statement calling out what they see as systemic failings in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the British Columbia Union of Indian Chiefs said the federal government has to share some responsibility for Ms. Moore’s death, calling it a “pattern rather than an exception.”
“I believe we need to tear down the systems that allow for the pattern to continue,” Chief Phillip said.
The Assembly of First Nations regional chief for British Columbia also agreed that Ms. Moore’s death was preventable and a result of Canada’s inaction.
“Another Indigenous life has been senselessly and prematurely lost at the hands of police in Canada. To this day, First Nations continue to experience and witness the complacency and denial of the justice and political systems in Canada that both perpetuate and allow this and many similar tragedies to happen,” Chief Terry Teegee said.
Mental health advocates, meanwhile, say police should not be performing so-called “wellness checks,” noting that studies show victims of many police-involved deaths are people in mental distress.
Albert Cyr, a retired psychologist in Moncton and former chair of the province’s mental health community advisory committee, said calls involving a person in distress can be complex, and shouldn’t be handled by lone officers.
“This was a call for help. It seems to me police should be able to handle a knife without having to shoot the person,” he said.
with a report from Colin Freeze
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