New Brunswick’s Premier says he can’t support the call for a public inquiry to investigate the recent police shootings of two Indigenous residents, because he’s skeptical that the process would bring real change in his province.
Instead, Premier Blaine Higgs said there may already be recommendations based on the many previous inquiries and reports into Indigenous discrimination that are worth implementing right now, after a meeting with Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaq nation chiefs Wednesday.
“No one is denying systemic racial issues, no one is denying this is a generational issue that needs to be addressed,” he told reporters outside the legislature.
“I believe we must have change. … I believe this is a systemic issue, and it didn’t just happen in the last two weeks.”
The Higgs government has been under pressure to respond after two Indigenous people died in police shootings, eight days apart, in the province. Protests and calls for inquiries have been heard across the country.
Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old originally from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was killed by an Edmundston police officer conducting a wellness check on June 4. Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old from the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation, was shot and killed June 12 when the RCMP tried to remove him from a barbecue outside Miramichi.
Both shootings are being investigated by Quebec’s Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), a specialized unit that probes cases of serious injury or death by the police. The New Brunswick RCMP says it can’t confirm whether the force will release the report into either investigation when they’re complete.
The six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation said they were disappointed after their meeting with Mr. Higgs. They said they hoped the legislature could push through a motion forcing the Premier to call an independent inquiry – a process that should be led by Indigenous people and have tight timelines to ensure prompt action.
“Our people have participated in national inquiries and we have heard words spoken by governments, and still we come back to the same point we reached these past weeks. We need action now,” the group said, in a statement.
Mr. Higgs’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Jake Stewart, said there’s not a wide gulf between what the Indigenous leaders want and what the province is prepared to do.
“We agreed there’s systemic bias and racism in our provincial system,” Mr. Stewart said. “We agreed that Indigenous people don’t feel trust in the public safety and justice systems. We also agreed that we need action, and we need to implement items that will actually work.”
The chiefs will meet with the Premier again in two weeks, Mr. Stewart said.
“The most important thing today is the province of New Brunswick wants to do better,” he said.
In Ottawa, meanwhile, the Green Party’s Elizabeth May says she wants a full inquiry into the RCMP, saying the national police force’s culture of unaccountability must be put under a microscope.
Ms. May said the force acts as if it’s above the law in a way that goes beyond any one incident or report.
“The RCMP clearly sees itself as unaccountable,” she said Wednesday. “One or two tweaking measures around the margins won’t make the difference.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also urged more transparency and accountability from the RCMP and other forces. In particular, Mr. Singh said there needs to be improved scrutiny of public complaints about incidents involving police. Late in the day, Mr. Singh was tossed out of the House of Commons for refusing to apologize after he called a Bloc Québécois MP racist when an NDP motion on RCMP discrimination didn’t receive unanimous consent.
With a report from The Canadian Press
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.