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Politics ᐊ ᓃᑳᓂᔅᑭᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐊᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

New Brunswick shootings spark calls for inquiries and police reform

BY Ben Powless Jul 3, 2020

The police killings of two Indigenous people in New Brunswick last month has led to demands for investigations and reform of armed interventions by police, at a time when officer conduct is under increased scrutiny across the world. 

Chantel Moore, 26, was shot and killed by police June 4 in Edmunston, New Brunswick. Police said that they were responding to a request to undertake a wellness check on Moore and shot her when they encountered her with a knife making threats. 

Rodney Levi, 48, was shot and killed June 12 after RCMP officers were called to a barbeque at a local pastor’s house near Miramichi, New Brunswick. The RCMP said they responded to a call of an “unwanted man” and said that Levi was carrying knives, and they were unable to subdue him with a stun gun before shooting him when he charged at police. 

Family members and Indigenous leaders have criticized the actions of the police and investigators. 

Speaking in front of the British Colombia Legislature in Victoria, Moore’s mother said she wanted justice for her daughter. 

Martha Martin said she wants to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk about her daughter’s killing, as well as race relations and police shootings of Indigenous people in general. 

Several Maliseet First Nations are calling for an independent probe into the New Brunswick justice system. Moore’s home community, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, also released a statement on behalf of its hereditary and elected leadership, calling for a murder charge against the police officer who killed Moore. 

They allege that there were no attempts at de-escalation nor an attempt to use non-lethal force. They also pointed out that the officer who responded, “was approximately 6’3” and weighed approximately 300 pounds” – while Chantel measured only 5’4” and weighed 130 pounds.

New Brunswick Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart stated that Quebec’s Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes would be investigating the incident. They will recommend if charges against officers in the incident are warranted or not.

Approximately 100 members of Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation in New Brunswick, where Levi is from, marched from a field in the community to the church where his funeral was held. 

Rodney Levi’s uncle, Ken Levi, told the CBC that the community has been supporting the family, and that he’s been in touch with the RCMP, the coroner and the investigation team.

Metepenagiag Chief Bill Ward said that he met with members of the New Brunswick government June 17 to talk about systemic racism and an inquiry into the justice system, but told the CBC it was “more of the same” from the government. 

GoFundMe fundraisers were set up for both families.

Roger Augustine, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for New Brunswick and PEI, was quick to call for changes in the way police deal with mental health issues for First Nations. 

He says there needs to be major changes in police training, in learning about First Nations cultures and languages, and that First Nations need to be involved in training police. But he warned that the problem goes deeper than just the police. 

“Some people are losing patience with us as leaders, saying we need action now,” Augustine told the Nation. “What I want to see is legislation.” 

Augustine also says that First Nations should establish their own police forces. 

Meanwhile, he’s seen the New Brunswick government rule out an inquiry. He also expressed doubt that the Quebec investigators would find criminal activity against their fellow police force.

“I sound frustrated and hopeless but I’m not. I know something is going to happen. You’re going to see a strong political movement,” he said, pointing to frustration with police practices across Canada.

Judith Sayers, a spokesperson for the Moore family, said that there needs to be alternatives to dealing with mental health issues. 

“You need some sort of response team with specialized training who are trauma-informed,” Sayers said. “We need sensitivity training, to find and root out any racist officers. We could avoid these deaths if we had different ways of doing policing.” 

She says Moore had a six-year old daughter. Family has described her as a happy young woman with a lot of plans.

“There are solutions we can implement now – before waiting for more people to be murdered,” Sayers insisted.

The killings came while police brutality and systemic racism are in focus across North America, sparked by the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Floyd’s death lead to weeks of protests in over 500 cities in the US, sparking a wave of changes to police policies and procedures.

In Canada, it sparked questions to RCMP Chief Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who initially stated she did not believe there were issues of “systemic racism” in the RCMP.

An uproar led her to finally acknowledge that systemic racism is part of RCMP culture. “Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly,” Lucki said.

For Senator Lillian Dyck, whose family is part Cree from Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, it was too little, too late. 

Dyck called on the commissioner to either step down or be removed immediately, stating her initial comments show she doesn’t have the “necessary knowledge or skills” to continue as commissioner. 

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde joined the calls for police reform, saying that there needs to be fundamental reforms across the country and for the federal government to support and fund Indigenous police forces.

Bellegarde also said there should be a zero-tolerance policy within the RCMP against excessive use of force.

Videos of Indigenous people facing police brutality across the country have continued to emerge, including against Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam in Alberta.

Sayers remains hopeful that things might change this time. “We have to raise our voices in unison across this country – First Nations leaders, not just one or two families,” she observed. “It’s been happening off and on but never gets resolved so we have to work together and get something done this time.”

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.