5 months after promising a Systemic Racism Commissioner, New Brunswick has yet to appoint one
The New Brunswick government has yet to nominate someone for the position of Systemic Racism Commissioner, five months after the announcement of the new position.
In March, the government said an independent commissioner should be appointed within three months.
But with that goal now missed, leaders of Indigenous and Black communities, who were already skeptical of the government’s plan, are further questioning its commitment to tackle systemic racism.
“The province has not done much to try to do anything to improve the relationship with First Nations and in fact it does not even try to contact us to do so jointly, even though our request is. to have a full [public] investigation is still ongoing, ”Chief Patricia Bernard of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation said in an interview.
Bernard was among Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq leaders who criticized the appointment of a commissioner, citing a lack of consultation from the province and accusing Premier Blaine Higgs of trying to bypass calls for a public inquiry into racism systemic against Indigenous peoples in New Brunswick.
Calls escalated after two separate killings of Indigenous people last summer: Chantel Moore of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia was shot dead by a police officer in Edmundston, and Rodney Levi of the First Nation Metepenagiag was shot and killed by an officer near Miramichi.
Last December, calls for the resignation of Indigenous Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn escalated when the minister amended a motion in the legislature and removed a call for a public inquiry into systemic racism.
The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labor says it is still working on choosing a commissioner. In a similar statement in June, the ministry said it was focused on finding the right person for the job.
“We understand that there could be delays, but at a minimum for transparency purposes some updates should have been provided to our communities to find out what is going on,” said Husoni Raymond, one of the organizers. from Black Lives Matter Fredericton, in an interview about the work of the Commissioner.
Raymond agrees with Indigenous leaders, saying Black Lives Matter Fredericton has also not been consulted by the province.
“We will support criticism from Indigenous communities that they demanded a commission on systemic racism within the justice system, and the government ignored what they had to say and came up with their own remedy for systemic racism. “
In a statement to CBC News in July, the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labor said the hope was to have a commissioner already, but “we are focused on finding the right fit for the job. direct this work and we are diligent in reviewing applicants. “
The department now says it is continuing the application process.
What the role involves
Once selected, the Commissioner will conduct public consultations with various groups representing Indigenous peoples, Blacks or immigrants and people of color.
A public report is expected by March 31, 2022, with recommendations to address systemic racism in areas such as healthcare, education, social development, housing, employment and criminal justice . A total of $ 500,000 has been set aside, and staff are expected to assist the Commissioner in his work.
Given the delay in filling the position, the province was asked if the deadline for the public report would be postponed, but this question was not answered.
“The timing is very crucial, and here we are, almost late summer before fall,” Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of St. Mary’s First Nation said in an interview.
“We don’t have time to say nothing. I am in a leadership position to get things done and to hold people to account, especially the Government of New Brunswick, on Indigenous issues around systemic racism. ”
Bernard and Polchies were also disappointed that the province did not make National Truth and Reconciliation Day Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30 a public holiday.
Polchies said appointing a commissioner by September 30 could foster a show of good faith, but ultimately the public inquiry is of the utmost importance.
Saint John lawyer Neil Clements said appointing the commissioner is one of the province’s most important tasks.
“I think the person in this chair has to be able to speak the truth to power and I think they have to be independent from the Prime Minister to do this job properly,” he said. “They must have complete authority over the project.”
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Clements added that the original one-year award should be extended, perhaps to three years, depending on the timing of recommendations for tangible change.
Candidates are shortlisted for such things as their level of knowledge of obligations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and the New Brunswick Human Rights Act, their ability to interact well with senior government officials and their expertise in intersectionality analysis, which takes into account the multiple identities that a person may have, each playing a role in their experience of discrimination.
An ideal candidate would also have at least 10 years of expertise on the subject of systemic racism, including personal experience of it.
The Executive Council Office, chaired by Higgs, directs the recruitment of the Commissioner. This prompted Raymond to question whether grassroots defenders will be considered candidates in the final decision and who will choose exactly who is hired.
“If it’s a predominantly white group of people who decide who will be the commissioner, sometimes they can even name racialized people who will maintain the status quo.”
Desire for a tangible result
If a report is released, Raymond said, it should make concrete short- and long-term recommendations to bring about tangible change. He also said that creating these recommendations will be difficult given the lack of information available on issues such as racial profiling carried out by authorities.
“It is really difficult to demonstrate the disproportionate impacts that these colonial institutions have on our communities, if the data is not collected,” he said. “So I think it’s important whether the recommendations are implemented or not.
“Our communities are skeptical because we’ve heard these promises over and over again, we’ve seen these reports happen, we’ve seen these recommendations come to the fore, and then it takes years or nothing happens.”
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