New Brunswick city aims to make racial discrimination a punishable offence in Canada
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- A New Brunswick city has taken the first step towards making racial discrimination a punishable offence in Canada.
The move comes just weeks after thousands of people gathered in Saint John's King's Square in support and solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement, which continues to gain momentum.
"I don't think there's really words for it," said Matthew Martin, the founder and president of the local Black Lives Matter movement in Saint John. "We gathered here and stood in unity that we need to see change and it's heartwarming, speechless, to see that people are taking action."
Martin is referring to the City of Saint John taking steps towards making racial discrimination a punishable offence not only in New Brunswick, but also in Canada.
Under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act, violators are not punished criminally, but instead can be ordered to make restitution.
On Monday night, Saint John council unanimously voted to push the provincial and federal governments to make changes.
"I think this is a really good step in moving forward the needle on dealing with systemic racism, in particular the municipal level, but also the perspective that this kind of motion offers is the encouragement that other jurisdictions and other legislators make the same move," said Coun. David Hickey.
Neil Clements is a lawyer in Saint John who applauds the decision made by council --- and says such a strong outcome from council speaks volumes.
"I've not seen anything like this in my 47 years," said Clements. "If we can amend that legislation to capture more -- change some definitions -- this is within the provincial government's authority to do it, if they have the appetite for it, and I believe the appetite is fairly clear. It's available to you, the lobby is asking for change."
Martin says the movement is strong.
"We will continue to push for it to be a municipal, a provincial and a federal offence," he said. "It's a step in the right direction, I mean last night it was a time of celebrating, we want to go out and pop bottles, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done."
Martin is meeting with Premier Blaine Higgs on Wednesday along with Prude Inc. and the New Brunswick Black History Society. They will be discussing an action plan and also hand-delivering the motion approved Monday by Saint John council.