The second police shooting of an Indigenous person in New Brunswick in little more than a week is sparking anger and fear, and intensifying calls for police reform across the country.
Bill Ward, chief of Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation, near Miramichi, N.B., urged residents to remain calm as they dealt 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 near the Boom Road Pentecostal Church, Mr. Ward said.
Mr. Levi had been at a barbecue at a pastor’s house when something went wrong and he was asked to leave. The RCMP were called to remove him from the property, and say he was armed with a knife.
“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. “He wasn’t an intimidating guy. If this could happen to him, this could happen to anybody.”
Mr. Levi’s shooting comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that systemic racism exists in the police force – as did RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki a day after disputing it – and as Canadians demand greater scrutiny around police for their treatment of minorities and use of violence. Calls to change policing to better protect racial minorities are growing across the country.
Mr. Levi is the second Indigenous person to die in New Brunswick 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 during a “wellness check” 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 in Canada since April in shootings in Winnipeg, New Brunswick and Nunavut.
Quebec’s 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 was called in because New Brunswick doesn’t have its own police oversight agency – something the Premier says may need to change.
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 on scene, they were confronted by a man armed with knives who charged at officers,” said RCMP Corporal Jullie Rogers-Marsh in a statement posted Saturday to the RCMP website. She said officers used a stun gun several times, but were unable to subdue the man. On Sunday, a spokesman for the RCMP said no one was available to comment on the case.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde has called for a full and independent investigation into the killing of Mr. Levi. “It should be clear to everyone by now that Canada’s unwillingness to address systemic racism is killing people. It’s killing Black people and it’s killing First Nations, Inuit and Métis people,” Mr. Bellegarde said in a comment piece published in The Globe and Mail.
Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said it’s essential that the investigation into the shooting is “timely, transparent and independent.”
In a statement to The Globe on the weekend, she said the government is looking at broader changes to policing: “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.”
In New Brunswick, there have been calls 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 that the province has a problem with systemic racism toward Indigenous people.
The six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick said in a statement on Mr. Levi’s death that it’s “a window into the problems in the justice system.”
"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.”
Mr. Ward, the Metepenagiag chief, said his people have a right to be angry, given the violence and racism Indigenous communities face. He has told the RCMP to stay out of the community until emotions cool down, and on Sunday asked members of the media to leave, too. 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 here who suffer from mental illness 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?”
Rev. Brodie MacLeod, the pastor, said his congregation was “brokenhearted” over the loss of one of its members, but declined to speak in detail about the shooting, other than to say that Mr. Levi had been invited into his house to have a meal with his family Friday night.
“The last thing we want to have happened is have a man die, at all, in any case, period," said the pastor, who moved to the community two years ago. “We are co-operating fully with the investigation and just not trying to do anything to put anyone in danger or misrepresent what took place.”
Friends and family of Mr. Levi described him as an easy-going person who struggled with mental illness.
“He was a fun guy, made people laugh. He was good with kids. He was a caring guy," said Tracy Cloud, a childhood friend of Mr. Levi’s. “He was well-liked, that’s why everyone is so surprised."
They said he wasn’t known to carry a knife, and no one in the community viewed him as dangerous. He was a slight man, known for telling jokes and giving everyone nicknames.
"This literally was shoot to kill,” said Carmella Levy, the man’s aunt. “Everybody is scared. It’s terrible, it’s nauseating, nobody can barely function.”
People don’t want the RCMP in their community any more, she said. The reserve once had its own band constable, but the funding for that position was cut a few years ago, the chief said.
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, calling for justice in her death.
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,” Mr. Martin said. “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 Edmundston police were called to check on Ms. Moore’s well-being. The province has called a coroner’s inquest into her death.
In Mr. Levi’s community, people say racism is a fact of life. They said that 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 counsellor in the community.
“Once again, we’re left to pick up the pieces. Once the dust settles, there’s another dead Indigenous person.”
With reports from Marieke Walsh
and The Canadian Press
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