New Brunswick

First Nations chiefs push for inquiry into systemic racism in N.B.

First Nations chiefs in New Brunswick are making their case for an inquiry into policing and the justice system.

'If you're red-skinned and get stopped by police, immediately you're profiled,' George Ginnish says

Natoaganeg Chief George Ginnish said people in his community have revealed the negative experiences they've received with non-Indigenous police officers. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

First Nations chiefs in New Brunswick are making their case for an inquiry into policing and the justice system.

Natoaganeg Chief George Ginnish says Indigenous people don't have many warm, fuzzy memories of dealing with the law.

Ginnish said the fatal police shootings of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi at the hands of police officers really undermines confidence in a system that is supposed to provide protection and underscores the need for drastic change.

Moore, 26, and Rodney Levi, 48, were shot and killed by police in New Brunswick eight days apart.

Ginnish said he's spoken to a number of members of his community in recent days who've had nightmarish encounters with non-Indigenous police officers.

Chantel Moore, 26, and Rodney Levi, 48, were shot and killed by police in New Brunswick eight days apart. CBC has permission from Moore's family to use the photos included in this story. (CBC)

"If you're red-skinned and get stopped by police, immediately you're profiled."

He didn't want to give detailsl but said those are the kinds of things an inquiry would need to hear.

"We need a review of the justice system here … it hasn't been meeting our needs," he told Information Morning Moncton.

Too many Indigenous people sent to jail

Ginnish said too many Indigenous people are being sent to jail.

"When you start out two or three steps behind, that makes for a very uphill challenge for many of our people and that has to change. Status quo is not an option."

Ginnish and other northern chiefs have been pushing for a First Nations peacekeeping force to replace a band constable program that's been phased out over the past four years.

Former judge and lieutenant-governor Graydon Nicholas's name has been put forward to work on an inquiry. (Logan Perley/CBC)

He said there is now one community-policing liaison working with six First Nations and that doesn't meet the need.

Ginnish said an inquiry wouldn't have to take five years or cost millions of dollars. There are people willing and able to get to work immediately.

Former judge and lieutenant-governor Graydon Nicholas's name has been put forward.

Nicholas was previously involved in a task force on Aboriginal issues, including wood harvesting rights.

Consistency in government is a big challenge in seeing any progress, said Ginnish.

He's been chief 24 years and has had to restart discussions with new federal and provincial leaders so often it makes his "head spin."

Inquiry would 'have more teeth'

Ginnish said a commission was set up under former premier Brian Gallant with Mi'kmaq chiefs to begin implementing the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action, but that work ground to a halt after the last election.

Madawaska Chief Patricia Bernard said it's a great idea to look at past recommendations such as those in the TRC report.

That's what Premier Blaine Higgs said he wanted to do, when the groups met on Wednesday.

Madawaska Chief Patricia Bernard said an inquiry would be more beneficial, as more people could testify. (Julia Wright / CBC)

But Bernard said an inquiry would have more teeth. People could be compelled to testify and documents could be called.

Even before any inquiry, Ginnish and Bernard already know that education could play a huge role in the change they're looking for.

For starters, Ginnish said lawyers need education on the TRC calls to action.

He said many lawyers and judges have never used or even heard of Gladue reports, which are supposed to be part of sentencing for Indigenous adults.

"The people tasked with protecting citizens have no understanding of what our First Nations face and how justice is stacked against us."

"If you can't afford legal representation that's a big disadvantage and that's most of our people."

More restorative justice for young people 

He'd also like to see more restorative justice for young people.

Bernard agreed the bottom line is all about knowledge, understanding and education.

"From my own experience, most racism comes from not knowing," she told Information Morning Fredericton.

"People don't understand the situations that Aboriginal people have been placed in. 

"Everything from history and how we've been denied services, corralled onto reserves like apartheid — these are things people don't quite grasp."

Bernard said she's not sure you can compel people to have compassion, but an inquiry would at least bring these things to light.

"We all want the same thing recognition of systemic racism and recommendations to improve that. hopefully we can take this opportunity to improve relations in this province the same as it happened in Nova Scotia."