A large group of supporters rallied in front of the New Brunswick Legislature building Thursday afternoon to renew the call for an inquiry into the provincial justice system.
“Interesting timing” organizer Nate Gaffney said about the provincial election which was announced earlier this week.
Gaffney had been planning for the rally to be held Thursday afternoon for weeks now.
“I would have tried to put pressure for no election until an inquiry is done,” Gaffney said. “Whoever gets in, I want them to have a commitment to making the inquiry happen.”
In July, all the First Nations chiefs of the province met with Premier Blaine Higgs to call for an inquiry into the provincial justice system following the deaths of Rodney Levi, Chantel Moore and Brady Francis, though Higgs did not commit to the chiefs request for an inquiry.
Family members of Moore, Levi and Francis were all in attendance at the rally.
Gaffney said the idea to organize the rally on Thursday came from his grandmother, but also because he personally felt he had to do something to organize and keep the pressure on the government.
“Personally, I felt if I didn’t do anything now I never would,” Gaffney said. “I didn’t want to look back 10 years from now thinking ‘why didn’t I act when I could have acted.'”
Senator Sandra Lovelace-Nicholas spoke at the rally.
“We must bring light to the painful past and unjust violent actions in our system,” Lovelace-Nicholas said, as she choked back tears while reading a statement.
“The fact that they won’t do an inquiry is an injustice in itself,” Lovelace-Nicholas later told reporters.
Lovelace-Nicholas said the provincial government’s inaction on an inquiry is a “big disappointment” to Indigenous peoples and the families of those who have been affected by the recent tragedies.
Lovelace-Nicholas said the issue of systemic racism in the justice system isn’t something new and recalled her own childhood memories of uneasiness when police were around.
“It goes way back,” she said. “Ever since we were children and our parents used to tell us ‘hide there’s the cops.'”
Lovelace-Nicholas said another thing party leaders should consider going into the election is legislating the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, something that has already been passed into legislation in British Columbia.
“It’s very important for us to be treated equal,” Lovelace-Nicholas said. “That would be a protection for our people and make sure that the treaties that were signed are acted on.”
Darrah Beaver spoke during the rally, she feels like justice is not there for Indigenous people.
“I think that having an independent watchdog over the police and their reaction and treatment of First Nations communities is something that would definitely benefit and ensure safety and that the human rights of First Nations people are being upheld,” said Beaver, the director of education in Tobique First Nation.
“In my own community, Tobique First Nation, we’ve taken on the bill out of our own-source revenue to hire tribal security and every time RCMP are called to a house, tribal security follows to monitor,” Beaver said. “Why is that necessary? We’re double spending to ensure the safety of our people.”
Beaver said the tribal security in her community “do the job where the RCMP are failing.”
Beaver pointed out there were many non-Indigenous allies in attendance at the rally and hopes that support continues to grow.
“I see evidence that Indigenous issues are now becoming more prominent and perhaps some non-Indigenous New Brunswickers are becoming more aware,” Beaver said. “I think that the demand for Indigenous issues to be put up higher on the list of priorities will not come from Indigenous people demanding it, it will come from non-Indigenous people supporting and calling on their candidates to say ‘this is a priority’ and to recognise that as settlers on unceded Wolastoqey territory they also have a role to hold leaders accountable.”
Beaver said all party leaders should be paying attention to that.
“I think the public inquiry into systemic racism in the justice system will definitely be only a first step,” Beaver said. “What will come from that, and what probably scares the Conservative government, is the costs that will be associated to addressing the wrongdoings and the deficiencies in the systems.”
“There’s a moment in history where things can change, and we’re at that moment,” said Green Party leader David Coon, who was in attendance at the rally.
Coon had previously voiced his support for an inquiry into the provincial justice system when the call was initially made by First Nations leaders.
“How will we know, as elected representatives, as political leaders, how will we know how to change that system to end the injustice that has been there for so long, if we don’t have a way to hear from the people who have lived that experience, so we can take their truths, their experience, their need for change and turn that into positive restructuring positive solutions,” Coon said.
Better understanding needed
“It was disgraceful the position the premier took on the inquiry and I don’t understand it,” Coon said. “I don’t think most Brunswickers understand it. It’s unacceptable and that’s got to change.”
“We have to build a relationship with Indigenous peoples in this province that reflects the treaties that we signed, that reflects the reality that the lands in this province were not ceded,” Coon said. “We need to bring the people of this province along to understand those realities.”
Coon said understanding that relationship is something that needs to be reflected in school curriculums, so that it is understood at an early age.
Conservative MLA and Minister of Aborignal Affairs Jake Stewart had previously stated his support for an inquiry, despite Premier Higgs stance.