Politics

Wawzonek commits to meet Black Lives Matter, Indigenous leaders


The NWT’s justice minister says she will meet with local Black Lives Matter organizers and Indigenous leaders after a call to do so from fellow MLAs.

On Monday, regular MLAs called on Caroline Wawzonek “to meet with Indigenous leaders and the organizers of the recent Black Lives Matter rallies to identify changes that can be made immediately, and long-term.”

The 11 regular MLAs made that call as they published a statement recognizing “systemic racism in our society and specifically in the justice system.”

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In response, Wawzonek said by email: “As Minister of Justice, I am committed to doing everything within my power to fight any and all systemic racism that exists in our justice system here in the Northwest Territories.

“I will certainly commit to meeting with Indigenous leaders and the organizers of the recent Black Lives Matter rallies to listen to their concerns and discuss possible solutions, and have already begun exploring ways we can make this happen sooner rather than later.”

Racism across society and the role of police have been under close scrutiny across North America in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and subsequent protests.

Black Lives Matter events have been held in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, and Inuvik, with another planned in Hay River later this week.

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“Political leaders must take action, heeding the call of hundreds of people who have marched in northern communities demanding that no one should feel frightened by the police or justice system due to the colour of their skin,” the 11 regular MLAs said in their joint statement.

“It is time to change or create policies to bring about equity for people disadvantaged for so long. All residents must see the justice system as fair; this can only happen through honest, open dialogue about how to improve it.”

Steve Norn, chair of the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight – which comprises all 11 regular MLAs – said in a statement: “It’s important that we have open lines of communications between Indigenous, territorial, and municipal governments, the policing community, and legal experts in the North to find a way through this issue of systemic racism.”

Norn’s committee similarly called on Chief Supt Jamie Zettler, commanding officer of RCMP in the NWT, to meet with Black and Indigenous leaders.

RCMP said they would provide a response on Tuesday.

Frieda Martselos, the Thebacha MLA, said in a statement: “I have seen first-hand the mistreatment of Indigenous people and all people of colour by the RCMP, the courts, and the corrections system. Indigenous staff members within corrections not having a neutral mechanism to air grievances is unacceptable.

“The Department of Justice and the RCMP have got to change the way they deal with systemic racism within their ranks by doing things differently.

“They must change the way they police in Indigenous communities and the Indigenous organizations must be part of decision-making within the Department of Justice.”

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