Quebec response team brings its own baggage to New Brunswick
Critics say agency lacks diversity, doesn't deliver results
The Quebec agency that's probing two fatal police shootings in New Brunswick has been urged by critics to get its own house in order, starting with its lack of diversity.
Of the 45 investigators within the specialized police force, only four identify as members of a cultural or ethnic community, according to BEI Quebec spokesperson Sylvie Boutin. Not one is a member of any First Nation or Inuit community.
"Where are the Indigenous members of the investigation team?" asked New Brunswick's Wolostoqey Chiefs in a written statement released Tuesday.
"Non-Indigenous people simply do not have the lived experience to conduct an unbiased investigation of such matters. We therefore suspect that the systemic bias that is found throughout our justice system extends to the so-called independent investigations underway by the BEI."
"This does not imply malice on the part of the BEI and its investigators. They are simply part of a broken system that will never provide justice for Indigenous people," said the document on behalf of Chiefs Ross Perley, Alan Polchies Jr., Patricia Bernard, Shelley Sabattis, Gabriel Atwin and Tim Paul.
BEI did confirm that its one Indigenous liaison officer was, in fact, dispatched to New Brunswick along with two separate teams of eight investigators.
Among her other duties, Bérénice Mollen-Dupuis is responsible for providing some cultural awareness to BEI agents in the field.
The agency says she was on the ground in Edmundston where 26-year old Chantel Moore was fatally shot on June 4 and she also went to Metepenagiag First Nation, west of Miramichi, where 48-year-old Rodney Levi was fatally shot on June 12.
Mollen-Dupuis declined to be interviewed at this time.
The hiring of Mollen-Dupuis in 2018 did not silence critics inside Quebec, who have also questioned the agency's independence with so many former police officers in its ranks.
Of its 45 investigators, 23 are former police officers.
"We have an issue here in Quebec with racism," said Mary Jane Hannaburg, vice-president of Quebec Native Women.
"Now we're going to ask the police from here to go investigate the police over there when we know we have systemic racism? No, that's not going to work."
Hannaburg says police oversight cases involving Indigenous victims must include Indigenous leadership.
"Open that door," she said. "So we know the process is untainted and unbiased. So we know no stone is left unturned."
"We want credibility and how will we have that credibility unless we're part of that process?"
Why did N.B. call on Quebec?
Because New Brunswick lacks its own serious incident response team, the province has had to call on agencies in other provinces to investigate cases where civilians are severely injured or killed during police interventions.
Nova Scotia's SIRT team, which maxes out at four investigators with a total budget of $700,000, has been involved in seven New Brunswick cases since its inception in 2012.
But this time, they had to say no.
SIRT's civilian director Felix Cacchione said his unit was called to respond to Edmundston but he didn't have the resources to run the case.
In 2019, an independent consultant's report said New Brunswick's dependence on SIRT was a concern.
Alphonse MacNeil recommended that New Brunswick create its own unit or create a two-person team that would work under Nova Scotia's direction.
Neither happened and inquiries to the minister of public safety have not yet been answered.
BEI track record
Since its inception in 2016, not one of BEI Quebec's independent investigations has resulted in charges laid against a police officer.
To date, the agency has conducted 165 independent investigations in Quebec. They are triggered in cases where civilians are seriously injured or killed. Of those, 117 are considered closed, 19 are still before the prosecutor's office, and 29 are ongoing.
The agency has also conducted 133 investigations into criminal complaints made against police by civilians, including 87 that were made by Indigenous individuals.
Six of those cases have now resulted in criminal charges laid against police officers.
Criminology professor Michael Boudreau says he can only speculate that it must have been a lack of political will.
"It just wasn't seen as a high priority issue," he said. "The problem is, it has now become a high priority issue, sadly."
He says this is the time to address the distrust by creating an independent team with Indigenous representation.
"It would be a perfect opportunity to bring Indigenous people into the process and appoint one or two Indigenous members to a SIRT," he said. "To me, this is a no-brainer."
"But ultimately, if these two cases - these two tragedies -- do not lead New Brunswick to make some kind of move to either hold a public inquiry or to create a stand-alone SIRT or team up with the Maritime provinces, I don't know what it will take to create this because the time is now."
Premier won't promise an inquiry
In Question Period on Tuesday, Premier Blaine Higgs said a public inquiry may be necessary but he said, before he would commit to one, he wanted to see the outcome of the BEI investigations to better understand exactly what happened.
He also said he wanted to take a look at why New Brunswick hasn't moved on recommendations from the past.
"It's really clear that we want to get to the bottom of this," said Higgs.
"If these investigations do not do that, or … if we find in talking to the chiefs that we need to go further ... with a full public inquiry, then we will do that."