The leader of the federal New Democratic Party is calling for a systemic change for policing after meeting with the family of a young Indigenous woman who was shot and killed by police.
On Sunday, Aug. 16, Jagmeet Singh travelled to Port Alberni, B.C. on Vancouver Island, to meet with a number of Indigenous leaders. At the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel, Singh and Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns also took time to meet with the family of Chantel Moore.
Moore, a Tla-o-qui-aht woman who used to live in Port Alberni, died in June after she was shot by police during a wellness check in Edmundston, N.B. Moore had recently moved to the small town to be closer to her six-year-old daughter and her mother.
A statement from the Edmundston Police Force says Moore was holding a knife and making threats, but friends and family members have questioned the use of force in her death.
“When violence is perpetrated against Indigenous people, it is dehumanizing the value of Indigenous lives,” said Singh on Sunday. “Today, I really want to highlight that the killing of Chantel Moore was the killing of a daughter. This was the killing of a granddaughter. Chantel was a mom and her daughter asks about her every day. I think it’s so important for us to remember the human value and worth of Indigenous people.”
Singh has committed to Moore’s family that he will continue to fight for an independent investigation into her death, but he also says that a systemic change is needed.
“There is no imaginable explanation to, in any way, ever justify why a wellness check would result in the death of somebody,” said Singh. “We’ve seen health-care and mental health checks result in deaths as well, so there needs to be a systemic change in policing. If someone needs a wellness check, we need to look at health-care workers responding. We need to look at other responses so that people are never put in danger and their lives are never taken.”
Moore’s mother, Martha Martin, attended the meeting on Sunday by video conference. Last week, the family filed official complaints with the New Brunswick Police Commission against two police officers.
“The sad thing about that is there are no Indigenous people on that complaints commision,” said Dr. Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and a spokesperson for Moore’s family. “How much trust can we have in those kinds of institutions?”
Both Singh and Sayers emphasized on Sunday that Indigenous people need to be involved in investigations when it comes to Indigenous victims of police violence.
“People right now don’t believe that there is justice,” said Singh. “That someone can take someone’s life and then can continue to work in the same police force—that’s painful. That makes people feel scared, feel unsafe.”
Singh is also calling for an end to racial profiling in policing.
“There is clearly evidence of systemic racism in policing,” he said. “We know Indigenous people are stopped disproportionately, they’re arrested disproportionately. Often these stops are based on no evidence.”
The province of British Columbia has promised to take a look at updating the province’s Police Act, but Sayers said on Sunday that she wants to see an “immediate” change.
“That takes too long,” she said. “These are things that can be remedied immediately—changing wellness checks to having trauma-informed teams instead of police. We’re demanding that there be a response by the government to address those things immediately, because they can.”
Later on Sunday, Singh also took time to meet with members of Tseshaht First Nation on their reserve, discussing everything from police brutality to COVID-19 response. His last scheduled stop in Port Alberni was a meeting with Cliff Atleo, chair of the Council of Ha’wiih (Nuu-chah-nulth Hereditary Chiefs) to discuss fishing rights.