New Brunswick

Chief says pressure on Higgs for inquiry into justice system won't let up

Natoaganeg First Nation chief George Ginnish says those calling for an inquiry into systematic racism in the justice system and policing in New Brunswick will continue to exert pressure on Premier Blaine Higgs and the provincial government until one is called. 

Open letter signed by 200 professionals and others details how New Brunswick lags behind Nova Scotia

Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation was among more than 200 people who signed a letter calling for an inquiry. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

George Ginnish, chief of Natoaganeg First Nation near Miramichi, says the push for an inquiry into systemic racism in the justice system and policing in New Brunswick will continue until Premier Blaine Higgs agrees to one.

Calls for an independent provincial inquiry have increased since police officers shot and killed Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in separate incidents earlier this summer and the person charged after the hit-and run death of Brady Francis was found not guilty in April.

Ginnish was one of 200 lawyers and prominent people who signed an open letter this week, urging the Higgs government to call an inquiry

"We will do it daily if we have to," Ginnish said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton the day after the letter was made public.
Ginnish's signature was joined by many influential voices on Indigenous and legal issues, which was something he said was important. 

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)

"For so many from the legal field to say 'Yes, this is necessary in New Brunswick now,' it really strengthens the call. It's absolutely necessary." 

Ginnish said the advocates of a provincial inquiry will be following up with the government, despite not being happy with the two meetings Higgs has already held with New Brunswick chiefs.

Higgs has said a federal inquiry would be more appropriate for the issues First Nations want addressed, but chiefs have said his stance reflects a lack of understanding of the system in New Brunswick and where the impact is felt. 

The premier maintained his stance while taking questions from reporters Tuesday afternoon, saying the inquiry would be "bigger than New Brunswick."

"It involves issues that are federal jurisdiction and that's been my concern from the very start," Higgs said. "What I'd like to do is ... things we can actually control here in New Brunswick, items that are important and really can change the needle and move in the right direction."

Those items would be selected in concert with First Nations, he said.

Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes is conducting the investigations into the two police shootings.

"It's the premier and this province that have to call this inquiry," Ginnish said. "If we could do it ourselves, it would already be done."

The open letter details the differences between the justice system in New Brunswick and the system in Nova Scotia, where, Ginnish said, an inquiry in 1989 into the wrongful murder conviction of Donald Marshall led to changes. 

Letter compares discrepancies in justice system

Brady Francis was 22 when he was struck and killed in February 2018 while waiting for a drive home to Elsipogtog First Nation. (Brady Francis/Facebook)

The letter says there are 64 practising Indigenous lawyers in Nova Scotia, compared with six in New Brunswick. New Brunswick has had one Indigenous judge, Nova Scotia five.

The letter goes on to point out other contrasts in justice and policing between the two provinces and comes to the conclusion that something needs to be done. 

"The problems in New Brunswick's justice system are too long-standing, widespread, and pervasive to be dealt with by Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) investigations into the police shootings of Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore, or any review of the prosecution for Mr. Francis' death," the letter says. 

Ginnish said Higgs's idea, to take some actions recommended in earlier, federal inquiries, might be fine in the interim but a provincial inquiry is still needed. Apart from investigating systemic racism, an inquiry would raise public awareness, provide much-needed data and help communities and families heal from the recent tragedies.

"In order to fight poverty, inequality, despair, you really need to address the justice system," said Ginnish. 

New Brunswick First Nation chiefs walked out of a meeting with Premier Blaine Higgs when he refused their request for an independent inquiry into systemic racism in the the province. (Logan Perley/CBC)

The letter says the inquiry is the only way to restore trust in the justice system. 

"A true commitment to reconciliation in these circumstances demands a public inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous peoples in all aspects of the justice system in New Brunswick," he said.

"Only through an independent, impartial inquiry can New Brunswick begin to come to terms with the role of the justice system in perpetuating racism and discrimination, and begin to repair the damage done to Indigenous communities." 

Ginnish said the short-term political responses don't deal with the larger issues. 

"We don't need another short term solution. We need an inquiry that will help and form a longer-term comprehensive solution."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton