First Nations chiefs say New Brunswick premier won't commit to shootings inquiry
FREDERICTON -- The New Brunswick government says it agrees that Indigenous people should lead some kind of review into two recent fatal police shootings, but several First Nations leaders say they're "disappointed" it may not be a formal inquiry.
The province's Aboriginal affairs minister, Jake Stewart, said more than a dozen First Nations chiefs took part in a conference call Wednesday with Premier Blaine Higgs.
"We agreed that Indigenous leaders should be at the head of this -- maybe a co-chaired effort," Stewart told reporters after the meeting.
"There were terms thrown around like task force, review, inquiry, commission. Many terms were discussed and there was disagreement on terminology.... Not everybody can land on the same page in a meeting."
However, chiefs representing six First Nations said they had specifically asked for a formal, independent commission of inquiry to investigate the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi.
"We were very disappointed with Premier Higgs' response," the chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation said in their statement.
The chiefs said they told Higgs and members of his cabinet an inquiry should be led by Indigenous people and should 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 chiefs said.
"We asked Premier Higgs to appoint a commission of inquiry as soon as possible and to commit to implement its recommendations."
Stewart, who earlier this month called for a public inquiry, said most of the chiefs agreed to take part in another meeting in two weeks.
The minister said the province was still open to calling a public inquiry, but he made it clear the government is hesitant about taking that route because it could take too long.
Having looked at the results of several national and provincial inquiries and royal commissions dealing with Indigenous issues, Stewart said only 20 per cent of 797 resulting recommendations had been implemented over a 24-year span.
"The premier committed to meaningful change, action and results," said Stewart. "We didn't commit to an inquiry, but we're still open to it."
The Wolastoqey chiefs also said they raised concerns about systemic bias and racism against Indigenous people in New Brunswick's police and justice systems -- and they reminded the premier about Stewart's earlier pledge.
"Despite the fact that his minister of Aboriginal affairs has recognized that bias and racism exists, Premier Higgs is not prepared to recognize that," the chiefs said in their statement.
Stewart challenged that assertion.
"The premier does recognize that we do have systemic bias in our system," he said.
Other chiefs who attended the meeting could not immediately be reached for comment.
Earlier this week, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, said Indigenous people in New Brunswick are feeling mistrust about the existing investigation.
The ongoing probe is being led by Quebec's independent police watchdog agency, known as the BEI, because New Brunswick has no oversight body of its own.
-- By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.