N.B. minister backs chiefs' call for inquiry into racism after police shooting
Published Wednesday, June 10, 2020 1:01PM ADT Last Updated Wednesday, June 10, 2020 10:30PM ADT
FREDERICTON -- New Brunswick's minister of aboriginal affairs said Wednesday the province has a problem with systemic racism toward Indigenous people as he backed a call from Wolastoqey Nation chiefs for an independent inquiry.
"I've done this job 19 months, and I have felt on numerous occasions there is systemic racism. I thought it was about time I spoke out and told the public how I felt about that," Jake Stewart said outside the legislature.
Last week's shooting death of Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman who was killed by police in Edmundston, N.B., has brought the issue to the forefront. Her death came when an officer performing a wellness check allegedly encountered a woman with a knife.
Stewart's comments came as six Wolastoqey Nation chiefs renewed their call for an independent inquiry to review what they called "systemic bias" against Indigenous people in the province's policing and criminal justice systems.
The chiefs said Wednesday they want the provincial government to appoint legal experts from Indigenous communities, who they say are the only people who can conduct an unbiased inquiry into such matters.
Stewart said Wednesday he supports the chiefs and believes a separate inquiry to examine systemic racism in policing and the justice system could begin before a Quebec police watchdog investigating the shooting files its report.
He said such an inquiry would be separate from the investigation into Moore's death and said he would bring the idea to cabinet.
The shooting is being investigated by Quebec's independent police investigation agency, the Bureau des enquetes independantes. The agency has said it won't comment until it files its report, which could take months.
Premier Blaine Higgs said the Quebec agency should be allowed to do its work.
"There is a process to do this," he said. "It is extremely unfortunate with any life lost, that this is a young Indigenous woman, but that doesn't mean the whole system is broken. It means something went wrong that night, very seriously wrong. That's why the independent analysis is underway."
The premier said if the investigation shows there were broader issues involved, he would "go the distance" to understand what more needs to be done.
The six New Brunswick chiefs say their people are over-policed, underserved as victims and more likely to be sentenced and jailed.
"The province has a responsibility to act -- to address systemic racism in the justice system. We need to end this discrimination," the chiefs wrote.
"Now is not the time to wait for a predetermined process to ignore the systemic problems that result in the unequal treatment and death of Indigenous peoples in our province and throughout the country."
Lisa Harris, the Liberal critic for aboriginal affairs pushed the issue in the provincial legislature Wednesday, calling on the premier to discuss the call for inquiry with his cabinet and take action.
Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart said the death of Moore, who was originally from British Columbia, was heartbreaking, and he expressed his condolences to the family.
He said the agency from Quebec has a good track record. "They will get to the bottom of this case, and they will engage Chantel Moore's family and will report their findings to public prosecutions," he said.
Liberal backbencher Stephen Horsman -- a former police officer -- and People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin also supported allowing the Quebec agency to complete its work.
A private funeral service for Moore is set for Thursday morning.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2020.