Question Period: Systemic racism against Indigenous Peoples

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

I would like to ask a question on behalf of my colleague Senator Dyck.

On June 4, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old First Nations woman who had just moved to New Brunswick from B.C., and was eager to start a new life, was shot and killed by a police officer who was sent to check on her mental wellness. Minister Marc Miller stated:

. . . I’m outraged. There needs to be a full accounting of what has gone on.

This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself.

Unfortunately, he was right. Over the weekend, there was the death of Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old Mi’kmaq from New Brunswick, who was shot by the RCMP while he was asking for help for his mental problems.

There seems to be a problem. Will the government commit itself now to prevent future incidents of this nature — more killings of people who are suffering from mental problems? For example, will there be a commitment to funding mobile intervention units, consisting of a team of mental health workers and social workers, with police as backup, who, as a team, can respond to situations in a more holistic, de-escalating manner, as proposed by Senator Sinclair in a recent interview?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. These are sad times. We’re facing tragedies, violence and pain that is so deeply distressing. I know we all share in this grief. The government is deeply troubled by the state of affairs, and the Prime Minister has been quite clear in his pronouncements of his analysis that this problem we’re facing, which finds its expression in these tragic cases of death and violence, are rooted — and we know this, colleagues — in our society and in our history. They go back a long, long time.

Were it the case that our words or, even less, a government could fix this. But that is not the world we live in. The government is and remains committed to doing its part along with civil society; provincial, territorial and municipal governments; and along with institutions like the RCMP and provincial police forces, that we all must do our part to find a way to make progress toward addressing the systemic problems that give rise to these horrible events.

The events of which you spoke — those tragic events in New Brunswick — are under investigation, as you know, by Quebec institutions, which are one step removed. To say that we look forward to the results is probably not the right form of words; but when we get the reports, I can assure this chamber that the government will take very seriously whatever recommendations flow from them. More generally, this government is committed to working with the institutions within its jurisdiction to push forward and to improve the way in which we relate and interact in our country, so as to reduce — ideally eliminate — the risks and incidence of these tragedies happening. Thank you for your question.

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: In that perspective, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister in New Brunswick said that the problem with the justice system is that it suffers from systemic discrimination and racism.

Does the government still believe that the current commissioner is in a position to fight against this systemic discrimination?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Senator, I’m not in a position to answer on behalf of the government with regard to this very specific question you’ve asked.

Government leaders, including the Prime Minister, the mayor of my city and many other elected officials, have recognized that there is a systemic problem of discrimination in this country. It is up to us as parliamentarians and up to our elected leaders to do what we can within our jurisdictions to educate and push those within our purview to confront the realities which we face, peu importe les mots employés, and to take action. Words are important and words are acts, but it’s the actions that count.

In that regard, this government remains committed to doing what it can to address the problem of systemic discrimination in our country.

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