New Brunswick

Province non-committal on Chantel Moore inquest jury recommendations

New Brunswick's public safety minister is non-committal about implementing recommendations from the Chantel Moore inquest, pointing out that he doesn't have the authority to put some of them into effect.

Will take up to 6 months for partners to come up with a plan, says Public Safety Minister Bill Hogan

Public Safety Minister Bill Hogan says his responsibility is to ensure an adequate level of policing in the province. (Patrick Richard/CBC)

New Brunswick's public safety minister is non-committal about implementing recommendations from the Chantel Moore inquest, pointing out that he doesn't have the authority to put some of them into effect.

Bill Hogan said it could take as long as six months for "partners," including municipal police forces, to tell him what they plan to do.

And if they say, for example, that they lack the money to equip each of their officers with non-lethal weapons, such as Tasers or bean bag rounds, there's little he can do about it.

"It's a little more complex than that because the province doesn't pay for the equipment," he said. "The municipalities do."

Among the recommendations by the coroner's jury this week was the mandatory wearing of non-lethal equipment, including Tasers for those trained in their use, and greater access to less lethal tools.

Chantel Moore, 26, was shot and killed by police officer Jeremy Son in the northwestern New Brunswick city of Edmundston in June 2020 during a wellness check at her apartment. (Chantel Moore/Facebook)

Pressed to explain what responsibility he had to ensure other people are not shot by police in the future, Hogan would not commit to any specific actions.

"My responsibility as public safety minister is to ensure an adequate level of policing in the province," he said.

"Whether or not that comes to certain tools they need to do their job effectively, I guess that would be a discussion that we may entertain in the future.

"At this point in time there's no plans to look at that."

Tasers up to municipalities

Moore, a 26-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman who had moved to New Brunswick, was shot and killed by an Edmundston city police officer outside her apartment in June 2020.

The city force had only one working Taser the night of the incident, and it wasn't available for the call at Moore's apartment.

Const. Jeremy Son, who shot Moore, testified that a Taser wouldn't have been appropriate in that situation, and he would not have used it if it had been available.

But police practices expert Chris Butler testified that if a second officer had been with him, they might have used a Taser.

The jury's recommendations also included not having a lone officer respond to a call. A second officer stayed in the police car in Edmundston while Son went to the door alone.

Hogan said as a town councillor in Woodstock, he supported buying Tasers for the municipal police force, but the town couldn't afford to buy one for each officer.

"So that would be a question more appropriate for each municipality," he said.

'Action is important'

The jury also recommended a new entity to examine police shootings and other use-of-force incidents involving police. 

The Higgs government has inked an agreement with Nova Scotia that will see its Serious Incident Response Team  become a two-province agency. Legislation to allow that to happen passed third reading on Wednesday and will become law next month.

Hogan said details of that are still being worked out but suggested that the new two-province SiRT won't necessarily have an office in New Brunswick, as the agency's Nova Scotia head suggested.

From left, Moore's grandmother Grace Frank, mother Martha Martin and uncle Leroy Martin. Martha said the shawl she wore for the conclusion of the inquest was made for her by a friend, after she lost not one, but two children — she had a son die five months after Moore, while in police custody. The wings are meant to hold her, she said, and give her strength. (Jennifer Sweet/CBC)

The minister called all the inquest recommendations "well thought-out" but said he'll follow the process of giving agencies six months to "give us a timeline on what they think they can achieve and when they can do it."

Coroner Services will be looking at the individual recommendations next week to identify which agencies or organizations are best suited to address them and forward them along, said a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety.

The Edmundston Police Force is certainly one implicated agency. A spokesperson said it has no comment on the recommendations at this time.

The force and the city are now also dealing with a lawsuit filed this week by Moore's family.

Hogan said some recommendations have already been implemented by some police forces and he sympathized with Chantel Moore's mother, Martha Martin, who called for quick action on them.

"I do understand what she's saying. Recommendations are great, but I do believe action is important," he said.

'When there's a will, there's a way'

Opposition Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said the province should be willing to provide the funding for Tasers as long as it ensures that's how the money is spent.

"When there's a will, there's a way," he said, adding, "I couldn't believe that Tasers were not made available or used in this situation, honestly."

Green Party Leader David Coon said the Higgs government tends to act "excruciatingly slowly, glacially slowly" on most reports.

But he said legislation this week to improve the child welfare system, a response to a 2019 report, might be a positive sign.

"That was taken seriously, that was acted upon, and now we've got a bill before us. Hopefully, they will choose that route with this jury's recommendations."

'Passing the buck'

Hogan's comments were "a bit unfortunate, if not disingenuous," said criminologist Michael Boudreau of St. Thomas University.

"I think that is just passing the buck, as it were, which is really unfortunate to hear." 

The province can provide funding to municipalities to implement the recommendation, he said, and can also "nudge police forces." 

Boudreau suggested the amount of money that would be needed for "few more Tasers" was a drop in the bucket, "given the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent on policing."

"If the political will is there," he said, "the funding can be found and the pressure can be brought to bear."

Michael Boudreau, a criminology professor at St. Thomas University, says a key question remains unanswered: to what extent was systemic racism in the criminal justice system a factor in the deaths of Moore and Rodney Levi. (CBC )

Boudreau called the recommendations "very timely and important" and said he hopes they are fully implemented.

Of utmost importance, he said, is having more cultural sensitivity training for police officers with respect to Indigenous peoples.

He also supports having Indigenous liaisons work with police forces, and increased training in de-escalation and situational awareness.

The officer who shot Moore "basically put himself in a position where he couldn't escape, and so he had to resort in his mind to his firearm," he said.

Some ideas easier to act on

Boudreau doesn't have a great deal of confidence that all of the recommendations will come to fruition quickly. Politicians and police forces are sometimes slow to act, he said.

On the other hand, some of the recommended measures, such as sensitivity training and creating Indigenous liaison positions, could be done very easily, he said.

Not many of the recommendations from the Rodney Levi inquest have been implemented yet, said Boudreau, with the exception of "some movement" toward having more social workers working with police on mobile crisis response teams.

"Arguably, it's still far too little at this stage," he said.

A key unanswered question, said Boudreau, is to what extent systemic racism in the criminal justice system was a factor in Moore's and Levi's death.

Boudreau reiterated his support for the call by First Nations chiefs for an Indigenous-led inquiry "to really get at the heart of the matter."

With files from Shift N.B.