The RCMP shooting of an Indigenous man in a Mi’kmaq First Nation has sparked anger and sadness in his community and intensified calls for police reform across the country.
Bill Ward, chief of Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation, urged residents to remain calm as they grappled with the aftermath of Rodney Levi’s death. The 48-year-old father of three was tasered and shot by New Brunswick RCMP on Friday night during a mental-health episode near the Boon Road Pentecostal Church, Mr. Ward said.
Mr. Levi had been attending a barbecue at a pastor’s home. The RCMP were called to remove him from the property.
“He was going through some stuff mentally, and they called police to have him peacefully removed. There wasn’t any threats of violence or anything like that,” the Metepenagiag chief said.
Mr. Ward has told the RCMP to stay out of the community until emotions simmer down. Band leaders urged residents not to barricade the bridge that connects the reserve of about 550 people to the RCMP detachment across the Miramichi River.
“Right now, everyone is scared of the RCMP,” Mr. Ward said. “I’m scared for the individuals who are suffering with mental health and addictions, and they hear what happened ... and [the RCMP] go driving through the community, what if somebody lashes out at them? And what are the RCMP going to do to them?”
Mr. Levi is the second Indigenous person to die in the province in a police shooting this month. Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old mother originally from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in B.C., was shot by an officer from the Edmundston Police Department on June 4 – a case that has sparked rallies and protests around the country.
In all, six Indigenous people have been killed by police since March in shootings in Winnipeg, New Brunswick and Nunavut. Given the violence and racism Indigenous people face, his people have a right to be angry, Mr. Ward said.
Friends and family of Mr. Levi described him as an easy-going person who struggled with mental illness. They said he carried a knife for protection, but no one in the community viewed him as dangerous.
“I’m in shock. Shot twice by the police. I pray for all your family, I know they’re hurting right now. I’m overwhelmed with sadness about all this,” childhood friend Dwayen Everett Ward wrote online.
Quebec’s Le Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), an agency that probes serious injuries and deaths by police, is investigating the RCMP shooting. It is also probing the death of Ms. Moore.
The Quebec watchdog, called in because New Brunswick doesn’t have its own police oversight agency, said early reports suggested the RCMP responded to a call about a distressed person, possibly armed with a knife, near Miramichi on Friday evening.
The BEI said police officers tracked the man to a building, and say he was armed when they found him.
“A police officer allegedly used an electric pulse weapon several times, without success. The man allegedly continued his charge against the police. One of the police officers allegedly fired and reached the man,” the BEI said, in French, in a translated statement released late Friday night.
Mr. Levi was taken to a hospital, where he died of his injuries.
A New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson said officers responded to a complaint about an “unwanted man” in a home near the community at 7:40 p.m. local time.
“When police arrived, they were confronted by a man who was carrying knives,” said RCMP Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh. She said officers used a stun gun several times but were unable to subdue the man.
Indigenous leaders said Mr. Levi’s death is being felt by their communities throughout Canada.
“This morning, I woke up to the news that another First Nations person was shot dead by the RCMP. This is devastating for First Nations across Canada,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde on Twitter. “We demand answers. I join the family in calling for a full independent investigation on the killing of Rodney Levi.”
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs tweeted his condolences on Saturday to families, friends and communities affected by Mr. Levi’s death. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on Twitter that his “heart breaks for Rodney Levi’s family, his community, and everyone who lives in fear that they could be next.” He repeated his call for the federal government to act immediately to address systemic racism.
Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said his office sends its deepest sympathies to Mr. Levi’s family and community. She said it is essential that the investigation into the shooting is “timely, transparent and independent.”
“We will take steps to increase transparency in police interactions through the adoption of body-worn cameras, and work to co-develop legislation that recognizes First Nations Policing as an essential service,” she said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
As people were mourning the death of Mr. Levi, rallies and walks were held around New Brunswick to honour Ms. Moore. In Edmundston, people walked from Madawaska Maliseet First Nation to the town square, saying they want justice.
Joe Martin, a family member from B.C., removed his colourful items of clothing and placed them on a table in front of him to reveal a black shirt and black pants to the crowd.
“Black is a symbol of the law,” said Mr. Martin. “And I wear this black until we get justice for Chantel … and justice for all the Indigenous people across this land that have been wronged.”
Nora Martin, another relative who spoke after the healing walk, said Ms. Moore’s six-year-old daughter, Gracie, is scared. The other day, the girl told her: “I don’t want to die like my mother.”
Ms. Martin said their family is devastated by the shooting, which happened after the Edmundston Police Department was called to check on Ms. Moore’s well-being. The province has called a coroner’s inquest into her death.
There have been calls since for a broader inquiry to examine systemic bias against Indigenous people in the province’s policing and criminal justice systems.
Jake Stewart, New Brunswick’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, has said he supports the call, saying the province has a problem with systemic racism toward Indigenous people.
The six chiefs of Wolastoqey First Nation in New Brunswick issued a statement on Mr. Levi’s death.
“As we have said all week, we are not experiencing isolated incidents, this is just further proof that systemic discrimination is pervasive in this province,” they wrote. “We need action now, we cannot afford another tragic loss of life.”
People in Mr. Levi’s community say racism is a fact of life. They said they’re used to drivers yelling slurs as they pass through the reserve, and to being treated with suspicion by the police.
“It’s sad that I have to look at my family, and know their lives are at risk because of who they are and where they were born,” said Rainier Ward, a youth worker and former addiction counselor in the community.
“Once again, we’re left to pick up the pieces. Once the dust settles, there’s another dead Indigenous person.”
Eight BEI investigators have been tasked with investigating the RCMP shooting. The BEI called on the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police service, to provide forensic-identification support.
The police watchdog said it will submit a report to the coroner overseeing the probe and to the New Brunswick Public Prosecution Service, which will determine whether charges will be laid.
“It will be up to these authorities to make the BEI report public or not, depending on the applicable legislation,” the Quebec agency said.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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