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Government amends motion calling for inquiry into systemic racism in New Brunswick

People walk to honour Rodney Levi in Red Bank, New Brunswick on Friday June 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

An opposition motion calling for an inquiry into systemic racism in New Brunswick was gutted by a government amendment on Thursday afternoon.

The motion, moved by Liberal MLA Lisa Harris, called on the government to call an inquiry into systemic racism in justice and policing in New Brunswick.

The Wolastoqey First Nation and Mi’kmaq Nations have urged the government to call an inquiry following the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi at the hands of police over the summer, but Premier Blaine Higgs has so far resisted, saying an inquiry should be federal in scope.

“It truly is deeply disappointing that the premier has refused to support an inquiry into systemic racism,” Harris said after tabling the motion. “This isn’t about politics.”

“These are our friends and neighbours. We can’t allow this to happen in our province.”

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Read more: Talks about New Brunswick public inquiry into systemic racism remain stalled

Aboriginal Affairs minister Arlene Dunn proposed an amendment to the motion to strip out the section calling for an inquiry, instead proposing that the Legislative Assembly “acknowledge” that systemic racism exists and take steps to eliminate it, that the assembly continues to consult with Indigenous Nations to “eliminate” systemic racism and to support the All Nation and All Party Working Group on Reconciliation.

When tabling the amendment, Dunn said that there are already countless recommendations from past commissions and inquiries gathering dust that can be actioned through the work of the working group that she will co-chair with Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Roger Augustine.

“I respectfully suggest that there are very good reasons to be cautious about pursuing the public inquiry route without seriously considering why the numerous recommendations from a plethora of previous inquiries have never been implemented,” Dunn said.

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The motion, as amended by Dunn, ultimately passed 24-23 with the entire opposition voting against as well as former Aboriginal Affairs minister Jake Stewart. Stewart spoke in favour of an inquiry over the summer and was removed from his cabinet post after the election.

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Green leader David Coon proposed a subamendment, which ultimately failed, that would have added a resolution calling for “investigations of a form agreed to” by Indigenous Nations, which ultimately failed.

“I am disgusted by the tactics of the PCNB in regards to the motion on an inquiry into systemic racism,” Metepenagiag Chief Bill Ward posted on Twitter.

“How can members acknowledge the existence but refuse to do anything about it? There is no interest in mending the relationship between our people.”

Read more: Chiefs to renew call for racism inquiry during meeting Thursday with N.B. premier

During debate Green MLA for Kent North Kevin Arseneau said the choice between an inquiry and action on past recommendations is not the mutually exclusive choice the government makes them out to be.

“One thing I’ve learned about [the Legislature] is that words mean nothing,” Arseneau said.
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“Action does not stop an inquiry, action does not stop us from recognizing that we are 49 very ignorant people and we do not know what First Nation communities are going through. So you want action? No problem, get to work. But listen.”

Education minister Dominic Cardy said that the government needs to get to work on addressing systemic racism, but says an inquiry is not the way to do it.

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“The premier and the prime minister has recognized that yes, there’s a problem with systemic racism in Canada and here in New Brunswick and if we don’t act upon that knowledge then we bear responsibility for it,” he said.

“But at the same time it is hard to look at a problem and decide that the best possible tool to address that problem is the same failed tool that has been used over and over and over again.”

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Speaking against Dunn’s amendment, opposition house leader Guy Arseneault asked MLAs to consider how history will look on how they respond to the calls for an inquiry.

“History is watching,” he said.

“I urge members to come out on the right side of history.”

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