The president of the African Association of New Brunswick questions the structure of the commission on systemic racism

The president of the African Association of New Brunswick says the structure of the provincial commission on systemic racism is not going to address specific issues facing different communities, including anti-black racism.

Yusuf Shire said he does not support the commission trying to examine multiple unique stories and challenges faced by different racialized groups under one umbrella.

“That’s what we understood from the start, when the native leaders didn’t want to participate in the commission because their message would be lost,” Shire said in an interview.

“Their issues are very unique. When you want to lump it all into one, you lose the most important things that need to be known.”

Shire’s criticism comes as the six chiefs of New Brunswick’s Wolastoqey Nation call on Premier Blaine Higgs to cancel the commission, arguing it lacks independence.

The chiefs refused to participate in Commissioner Manju Varma’s process from the outset, describing it as an “ill-equipped and ineffective alternative to an investigation”.

The province’s nine Mi’kmaw chiefs pulled out of the process earlier this week, saying the provincial government had suppressed Varma’s midterm report.

This report recommended an immediate Indigenous-led public inquiry to examine systemic racism against Indigenous people in the justice and policing sectors.

But the report was shelved following a meeting in April between Commissioner Higgs and Indigenous Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn.

Systemic Racism Commissioner Manju Varma said no one ever told her to change, remove or set aside anything. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Earlier this week, a senior political adviser in Varma’s office resigned. In his letter of resignation, he too questioned the independence of the commissioner’s office from the government.

The prime minister says he didn’t tell Varma not to publish his report, and Varma told CBC News no one ever told him to set aside, edit or remove anything.

Shire said the commissioner did not consult with his organization.

“It’s not to be seen or heard”

He also wonders why the process requires people to report themselves to the commissioner, either online or by mail.

“It assumes computer literacy and knowledge, which for many it doesn’t at all,” Shire said.

“But working with grassroots organizations or groups could solve this problem. It would be good to see a list of organizations that have been involved in this process so far. How many are led by racialized people and are grassroots organizations? “

Two other organizations contacted by CBC News, the Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick and Black Lives Matter Fredericton, said they were also not participating in the commission’s process.

Shire said her organization supports an Indigenous-led public inquiry, as demanded by Indigenous leaders for the past two years, following the police shooting deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi. They say such an investigation is the only way to fully examine systemic racism, as it would require government organizations to provide information.

Shire would also like to see a separate process focused on anti-black racism, which Shire says “is actively present even within the racialized community.”

“The indigenous community and the black community are the two most marginalized communities in the world, really,” he said.

“But at the same time, it seems like all of our messages and all of our statements and everything that we do, it seems like it’s not being seen or heard.”

The commissioner’s executive assistant said in an email to CBC that the consultations have not yet been completed and that the Africans of New Brunswick Association will be consulted by the end of the process.

Ida M. Morgan