New Brunswick

Higgs scraps legislation to increase emergency powers of government and police

The Higgs government is scrapping a plan to increase the emergency powers of the provincial cabinet and the police. 

Bill 49 will not proceed when the legislature resumes Tuesday

Premier Blaine Higgs said Monday a second shooting of a First Nations person by police in eight days convinced him it was the wrong time to give police more power. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

The Higgs government is scrapping a plan to increase the emergency powers of the provincial cabinet and the police. 

Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters Monday afternoon the controversial legislation, Bill 49, would not proceed when the legislature resumes Tuesday.

He said a second shooting of an Indigenous person by police in New Brunswick in an eight-day period had convinced him it was the wrong time to give police more power to stop people.

"Friday night changed things for a lot of people, including myself," he said, referring to the death of Rodney Levi of Metepenagiag First Nation. 

The legislation introduced last week would have given police powers to stop people during a state of emergency and demand documentation to ensure they're complying with an emergency order.

Chantel Moore, 26, and Rodney Levi, 48, were each shot and killed by police in New Brunswick this month. (CBC)

Higgs reiterated that the bill was intended to clarify powers of enforcement officers working at the border to screen people entering the province for COVID-19.

But he said in light of the two recent shootings and what he called "systemic racism … I think it's important now to focus on the healing process."

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said Higgs was "very wise" to withdraw the bill, which he said was an anachronism that would likely not have survived a constitutional challenge. 

University of New Brunswick law professor Nicole O'Byrne, who slammed the bill after it was introduced last week, said the premier did the right thing.

She said the bill "did more than it needed to do to tackle the problems that they articulated as the rationale for the bill in the first place." 

Nicole O'Byrne, a law professor at the University of New Brunswick, previously said it's unwise for government to amend emergency powers in an emergency. (CBC)

Michael Bryant, the executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, called it "a good democratic moment for New Brunswick." 

Higgs said he will join four of his ministers at a meeting with Indigenous chiefs on Wednesday to discuss the issue and said he was open to a public inquiry on police treatment of Indigenous people. 

"I can see that moving forward," he said.  "I could see it moving forward in a public inquiry that's well-defined so that we're sure to capture all of the issues that are currently of a concern."

A shift in tone

Higgs was hesitant about an inquiry last week, saying he wanted to get the facts on the death of Chantel Moore first before looking at broader issues. 

But Levi's shooting death last Friday, just eight days after Moore was fatally shot by an Edmundston city police officer during a wellness check, prompted the premier to shift his tone Monday.

"We are still waiting to learn all of the facts but the process of beginning to heal and implement real changes cannot wait," he said. 

"We certainly have to recognize the challenge we're having here in our province, the systematic racism that seems to be part of our society, that has been for generations."

Moore was a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation who had moved to the province.

Both shootings are now under investigation by Quebec's independent police investigation agency, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes.

Another part of Bill 49 that was also widely criticized would have let the cabinet suspend provincial laws or municipal bylaws during a state of emergency without a vote in the legislature for 30 days.

This must be a time for us as a government to listen.- Blaine Higgs, premier

The government argued last week that it would simply clarify in law the powers that the cabinet has already been using under the Emergency Measures Act. 

But the scrapping of the entire bill means that proposed change is dead as well.

Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jake Stewart, Justice Minister Andrea Anderson-Mason and Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard will all join Higgs at the meeting with chiefs on Wednesday.

"This must be a time for us as a government to listen," the premier said.

"I've heard the calls for dialogue and the concerns of our First Nation chiefs. That is what I want our government to focus on right now." 

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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