New Brunswick

Higgs's rejection of inquiry into justice system is part of systemic racism, says chief

Indigenous leaders in New Brunswick say the number one campaign issue for them during the provincial election is getting a commitment to hold a public inquiry into systemic racism. 

Chiefs call for commitment from all parties on issues facing First Nations

Chief Patricia Bernard of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation said the PCs rejection of a public inquiry into the justice system reflects the systemic racism First Nations face. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Indigenous leaders in New Brunswick say the number one campaign issue for them during the provincial election is getting a commitment to hold a public inquiry into systemic racism in the justice system.

Chief Patricia Bernard of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation said all political parties have the opportunity to step up during this election campaign.  

Both the Green Party and the Liberals have committed to holding an inquiry if elected, but Bernard said there is nothing like that from the Progressive Conservative Party or People's Alliance, and she doesn't expect there to be. 

Bernard said she and the other chiefs aren't sure why the Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs and his party have rejected repeated calls for a public inquiry. 

"We don't know if it's digging in the heels, or a show of power or what have you, but this is part of the whole systemic racism that we face." 

Bernard said an inquiry and ending systemic racism are at the top of the list of questions the Wolastoqey chiefs ask in their survey of party leaders.

"We hope that the majority of the political parties feel the same way." 

Bernard said the chiefs are still waiting for responses. 

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.

Meetings with leaders

Chief George Ginnish of the Natoaganeg First Nation said Mikmaq chiefs are going to ask to meet with each of the leaders of the political parties to discuss issues of importance to them. 

"We hope that they'll accept. We have four or five really important issues. Just the relationship with the government we've, I guess endured would be the word. 

"We've endured five one-term governments, and when we just think we're starting to make traction and positive movement in a direction we have to start all over again." 

Ginnish said they want the government of New Brunswick to look into the justice system as other provinces have. 

"You cannot continue to pretend that there aren't issues," he said. "And the only way is by having an inquiry into the justice system in New Brunswick. It's absolutely essential." 

Ginnish said the chiefs are pressuring all the parties to reveal their platforms on their relationships with First Nations people. 

Promises not kept

Ginnish added the PCs had promised an all-party committee with Indigenous representatives to implement calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. 

"Let's move forward. This is 2020. Let's not keep playing the same political games over and over again and our people suffer in the meantime." 

Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation said an inquiry is absolutely essential. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

He said there are many areas where First Nation communities are served poorly, including health care, mental health support, food security, and employment.

But none of the issues are being addressed, he said and what is being delivered instead are lip service and promises. 

"It's past that, we need action, absolutely. If we have to park ourselves in front of the legislature, you know, until some of these things are dealt with.

"I think that's what we have to do. It's coming to that." 

When asked by Information Morning Fredericton host Terry Seguin if he was writing the PCs off, Ginnish said he wasn't. 

But he added they needed to start showing First Nations they were serious about their relationship. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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