Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde is calling for a complete overhaul of the policing system in Canada, two days after a First Nations man was shot and killed by New Brunswick RCMP.
The confrontation left Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old member of the Metepenagiag First Nation, dead.
“This pattern is too systemic, too much violence, too much people getting hurt and too much people ending up dead, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Bellegarde said in an interview with CBC News Network on Sunday.
Chief Bellegarde’s call came after Quebec’s Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) — which investigates cases where civilians are seriously injured or killed in police operations — issued a statement Friday evening saying the RCMP had requested its assistance to investigate the shooting near Miramichi, about 30 kilometres east of Metepenagiag First Nation.
New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said members of the Sunny Corner RCMP responded to a report of an unwanted person at a residence at 7:40 p.m. Friday.
“When police arrived they were confronted by a man who was carrying knives,” Rogers-Marsh said.
She said a stun gun was deployed several times but was unsuccessful.
“A member of the RCMP discharged a firearm,” Rogers-Marsh said.
She said the man was treated at the scene and taken to hospital but died of his injuries around 9 p.m.
The CBC’s Gail Harding reports that Metepenagiag First Nation Chief Bill Ward is demanding answers.
“I can’t justify it. I can’t,” Chief Ward said during an address to the community in a Facebook live video on Saturday.
“He had his demons but he was always very friendly, but he never tried to harm anybody.”
Ward said he had spoken to Levi earlier Friday and said he was in good spirits but had told him he hadn’t slept in a few days.
Levi’s death comes just over a week after Chantel Moore, 26, was shot by a police officer in Edmundston, New Brunswick on June 4.
Healing walks in her memory were held on Saturday.
The shooting near Mirimichi concluded a tumultuous week for the RCMP that saw a public disagreement between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the force’s top brass–a week that ended with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki walking back statements she made that no systemic racism exists in Canada’s national police force.
“I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP,” Lucki said in a media statement.
“I should have.”
Lucki’s comments followed controversial statements by the RCMP’s top officer in Alberta, Curtis Zablocki, at a news conference in Edmonton on Monday when he was asked about protests in the United States over the death of George Floyd and debates over police violence around the world.
“I don’t believe that racism is systemic through Canadian policing. I don’t believe it’s systemic through policing in Alberta,” he said.
Zablocki, too, walked back his assessment Friday–vowing to eliminate systemic racism in the force.
“It was never my intention to minimize anyone’s experience or to hurt racialized or Indigenous people through my comments,” Zablocki said when asked by CBC News about calls for his resignation by the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association of Alberta (CTLA).
“I have personally learned much this week and I am completely committed to ensuring that I and the employees of the RCMP in Alberta continue the necessary work here in the province to eliminate systemic racism.”
Prime Minister Trudeau made it clear on Thursday that he did not agree with the assessments by Lucki and Zablocki.
“Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP. That’s what systemic racism is,” Trudeau said.
“In many cases it’s not deliberate, it’s not intentional, it’s not aggressive, individual acts of racism, although those obviously exist. It is recognizing that the systems we have built over the past generations have not always treated people of racialized backgrounds, of Indigenous backgrounds, fairly through the very construction of the systems that exist.”
Following Trudeau’s comments, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on Friday called for reform within the RCMP and reallocation of some of the agency’s budget to First Nations law enforcement agencies in Manitoba.
On Friday, Trudeau said he has “serious questions” about the arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam after a dashcam video showed an RCMP officer jump-tackling the chief to the ground and punching him in the head in a confrontation in Fort McMurray, Alberta in March.
“We have all now seen the shocking video of Chief Adam’s arrest and we must get to the bottom of this,” Trudeau said.
“Like many people, I have serious questions about what happened. The independent investigation must be transparent and be carried out so that we get answers.
“At the same time, though, we also know that this is not an isolated incident. Far too many Black Canadians and Indigenous people do not feel safe around police. It’s unacceptable. And as governments, we have to change that.”
On Sunday, the CBC’s polls analyst, Éric Grenier reported that a survey by Abacus Data for CityNews found that 61 per cent of Canadians said they were certain or pretty sure that there is systemic or institutional racism in Canada. Only nine per cent said there probably or certainly isn’t.
Grenier also reported that according to a poll by Léger for the Association for Canadian Studies, 50 per cent of those surveyed said that racism is a very or somewhat serious problem in law enforcement, while 72 per cent supported those protesting in the streets in the United States — nearly twice the number of those who said they supported the police who have been deployed against those protesters.
With files from CBC News (Sara Morin, Gail Harding, Jorge Barrera, Catharine Tunney, John Paul Tasker, Andrea Huncan, NIcolas Frew, Charles Rusnell, Jennie Russell, Éric Grenier, Nicolas Frew), RCI