Growing calls for inquiry into N.B. police shootings
HALIFAX -- The calls for an inquiry into systemic racism are growing louder and more urgent in New Brunswick after a second Indigenous person was killed by police this month.
The grief over the deaths of Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore has become a galvanizing force in New Brunswick, as concerns continue to be expressed over systemic racism in the province.
“I’m shocked, I’m dismayed, I’m saddened and I’m angered that this systemic injustice has happened again,” said N.B. Lieutenant Governor Brenda Murphy on Saturday.
48-year-old Rodney Levi was shot and killed by police Friday night at a home near Metepenagiag, about 30 kilometres west of Miramichi.
Chief Bill Ward of the Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation described Levi as troubled but friendly, funny and loved to fish.
“He got along with everybody, talked to everybody, joked to everybody,” says Ward. “ He wasn’t a very big man, wasn’t intimidating. He was very personable, and very polite.”
Ward said Levi was attending a barbecue at a church, where he had planned to seek guidance from a church minister.
The RCMP said officers responded to a complaint about an "unwanted man" in a home on Boom Road at 7:40 p.m. local time on Friday.
"When police arrived, they were confronted by a man who was carrying knives," said RCMP Cpl. Julie Rogers-Marsh.
She said officers used a stun gun several times but were unable to subdue the man.
An officer then discharged a firearm. Levi was declared dead in hospital around 9 p.m.
On Sunday, Ward issued a statement asking members of his community to refrain from speaking to the media about the Levi case, saying an independent investigation was underway. Ward said he was responding to a request from Levi's family.
Later in the day, the minister who invited Levi to the barbecue, Rev. Brodie MacLeod of the Boom Road Pentecostal Church, issued a statement saying Levi was a "welcomed guest" who shared a meal with his family.
The Quebec police watchdog agency is now in the process of looking into exactly what happened.
“The investigation is now being conducted by BEI of Quebec,” said Cpl. Rogers-Marsh. “We engaged BEI to conduct an independent review, so they arrived today to begin their investigation. We are assisting as requested.”
Second Indigenous person shot by police this month
Levi's death marked the second time that a police officer had fatally shot an Indigenous person in New Brunswick in less than a month.
On June 4, 26-year-old Chantel Moore was shot by an officer with the Edmundston Police Department.
The municipal police department later said an officer performing a wellness check allegedly encountered a woman with a knife.
Moore, from a First Nation in British Columbia, had moved to the community in northwestern New Brunswick to be closer to her mother and young daughter.
The Quebec Bureau of Independent Investigations has also been called in to investigate Moore's killing.
"In order not to compromise the integrity and the impartiality of its investigation, the (bureau) keeps confidential the facts and information it deems sensitive and does not comment on the events that it is responsible for investigating," the agency said in a statement released Saturday.
Calls for inquiry grow
There have been calls for a broader inquiry to examine systemic racism in the province's policing and criminal justice systems. New Brunswick's minister of Aboriginal affairs, Jake Stewart, has said he supports the call, saying the province has a problem with systemic racism.
“We do have systemic racism. There’s a heavy bias in the province as well, and I don’t just speak from the perspective of MLA’s, I mean throughout government, throughout the system,” Stewart said on Saturday.
“It is more crucial than ever that this incident be fully investigated by a neutral third party to review all the relevant facts and that a report of the investigation be made public,” Liberal Aboriginal Affairs critic Lisa Harris said in a statement. “Our party stands by our belief that an inquiry into the systematic bias against the Indigenous communities must be done.”
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde tweeted that he is calling for a full independent investigation into the killing of Rodney Levi.
“We can’t wait for the results of narrow-scope investigations. We don’t need to prove that systemic discrimination exists, we know that discrimination exists. We need action now. We cannot afford another tragic loss of life,” said a statement from the Wolastoqey Nation.
In Ottawa, the office of federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair issued a statement Sunday saying a "timely, transparent and independent investigation" into Levi's death was essential.
"This tragic loss comes at a time when people across the country -- and around the world -- are having difficult but necessary conversations about systemic racism in our institutions, including policing," Blair's office said in a statement. "We know that change will not happen overnight, but that these conversations need to be met with concrete actions."
Blair has already spoken in favour of the use of police body cameras and legislation that recognizes First Nations Policing as an essential service.
The Quebec public watchdog agency investigating the shooting says that once the investigation is complete, they will be submitting their report to the coroner responsible for the investigation in New Brunswick, and the province’s public prosecution services, to determine whether charges will be laid against the officers involved.
With files from The Canadian Press.