New Brunswick is looking at changing the way it handles investigations into serious injuries or deaths caused by the police, as questions grow around the fatal shooting of a young Indigenous woman in the province.
Premier Blaine Higgs has so far declined to say if he will call a coroner’s inquest into the death of Chantel Moore, the 26-year-old mother killed by a lone Edmundston Police Department officer at her apartment in the early morning hours of June 4.
But while he said he doesn’t think New Brunswick needs its own independent police watchdog, the Premier confirmed that he’s open to creating a shared, independent oversight agency with other neighbouring provinces that could investigate police in serious matters of public interest.
“That would be the criteria for us, ‘How do we have the right people available, to do a truly independent analysis, because that’s what people want.’” Mr. Higgs told reporters Tuesday.
His is one of the few provinces in Canada without an independent, civilian watchdog agency to investigate alleged misconduct by police. Last year, a consultant hired to review bias complaints against the New Brunswick Police Commission recommended the creation of such an organization, not staffed by government employees, to help restore public trust.
That review came after the province’s police union complained that the commission mishandled a professional-conduct investigation against a Saint John deputy police chief in connection with Dennis Oland’s first murder trial in 2015. The deputy chief later sued the commission for accusing him of making false statements and saying that he contaminated the crime scene.
Calls for greater police oversight were reignited as the Indigenous community in New Brunswick raises concerns about the shooting, which occurred after police were called to check on Ms. Moore’s well-being.
Marches and rallies are being planned around the province Saturday, and Ms. Moore’s family says they’re waiting on answers. Protests have been organized on both coasts, including at the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island, where she was originally from.
“How do you go to a wellness check and kill somebody?" said Russ Letica of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, who has organized a walk and rally from his reserve, just outside Edmundston, to the city’s downtown on Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t want to beat up on the cop, but if you ask me what happened, a young girl in town got murdered. … You can say what you feel, but I believe this was another statistic of a murdered and missing Indigenous woman.”
Police have had little to say about the shooting, other than describing it as an act of self-defence after the officer, who went to Ms. Moore’s apartment around 2:30 a.m. for what they describe as a wellness check, was approached by a woman with a knife.
Ms. Moore moved from the West Coast to Edmundston just a few months ago to be closer to her mother and five-year-old daughter, who lives with the girl’s grandmother. A dozen of her family members from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation near Tofino, B.C., arrived in the province this week to plan for her funeral.
Quebec’s Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) is investigating the shooting, at the request of the RCMP. Without its own police watchdog, the province calls in outside agencies based on workload and availability.
That’s a problem, says David Coon, Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick. He said investigators travelling from other provinces can be delayed getting to a shooting scene, or may not be able to interview witnesses fluently in their own language.
New Brunswick Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers, a former RCMP officer and sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, said the province needs to find a better way to reassure people that investigations of police are truly independent, and he’d welcome the creation of a new oversight agency.
Officers also need better training to deal with complex calls, such as the one involving Ms. Moore, he said.
“Trust is fundamental to policing. It’s always troubling when incidents happen that can cause us to question these things.”
The shooting has sparked anger in Edmundston, a mill town of about 16,500 people policed by a municipal force of around 30 officers. The city’s mayor appealed for calm after a senior investigator appeared to smile in a TV interview when asked how many times Ms. Moore had been shot.
“That’s when all hell broke lose,” said Jean-Guy Ringuette, who lives in an apartment adjacent to where Ms. Moore was shot. “People are angry. But the only people who know what really happened are the young lady, who is unfortunately dead, and the officer who shot her."
Her family said the officer fired five times. The police service has declined to speak about the shooting, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Inspector Steve Robinson has since apologized for the TV interview.
“I understand that my reaction on camera caused frustration and concern," he said in a statement posted on the city’s website. "I sincerely apologize if it was interpreted or perceived as recklessness or lack of compassion. This is absolutely not the case. I have deep sympathy and express my condolences to the victim’s family, friends and to the aboriginal community.”
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