'Historic, powerful' Black Lives Matter petition tabled in P.E.I. Legislature
Petition had more than 2,200 signatures signed in a week
A week after thousands of Islanders gathered in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in downtown Charlottetown, a petition from the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. has been tabled in the legislature.
The petition calls on the P.E.I. government to perform "an extensive review of all provincial legislation and policies, applying a racially-focused lens, with an immediate focus on education, health care, well-being, and job security."
About 15 members of the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. stood in formation outside of the Coles Building Friday, listening to the proceedings in the house through a wireless speaker.
During a brief recess, MLAs joined the demonstrators outside in an act of solidarity.
Petition is a 'starting point'
When the house resumed, Gordon McNeilly, the legislature's first and only Black MLA, tabled the petition, which had 2,271 signatures.
MLAs are now outside for a short recess and are standing alongside demonstrators. <a href="https://t.co/tKsfECftkM">pic.twitter.com/tKsfECftkM</a>—@NicoleatCBC
"This petition is a historic, powerful starting point to create inclusive human rights on P.E.I., foster real change and collectively standing together now and forevermore on this Island," he said.
As the words blared from the speaker outside, the demonstrators raised their fists and chanted "No justice, no peace" and "Stand up, fight back."
The moment the society’s petition was tabled in the <a href="https://twitter.com/peileg?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@peileg</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PEI?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PEI</a> <a href="https://t.co/lnZ9vnNPdP">pic.twitter.com/lnZ9vnNPdP</a>—@NicoleatCBC
The moment was followed by tears, smiles and embraces.
Society president Tamara Steele said the moment was "powerful" and felt like a show of strength.
'We see you, we hear you'
In a statement later sent to CBC, Steele wrote "in recent years the Black population on P.E.I. has grown significantly and continues to grow."
"You cannot continue to ignore the interpersonal and systemic barriers that Black Islanders are facing," she said of government.
In a response, Premier Dennis King wrote that government is committed to "ensuring our legislation, regulations and policies are inclusive."
"We see you, we hear you, and as government, we know we must do better," he said addressing the Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) community.
King wrote that government plans to work with BIPOC Islanders in the weeks and months ahead "to make meaningful change for our province."
"As a government, we need to ensure there is a racially-focused lens put on all decisions that we make."
'Special moment' for MLA
McNeilly said tabling the document was an emotional experience.
"To hold that paper with over 2,200 signatures on it was daunting and I'm just honoured to bring it on behalf of the people out here, and it was really a special moment I think in our history as a province," he said.
Historic though it may have been, McNeilly reiterated the petition is a starting point and that policy change would need to come from continuing to listen to and work with P.E.I.'s BIPOC community.
"I have so much faith in this Island it's unbelievable," he said, summing up the day's experience with "I'm proud."