Aboriginal affairs minister disputes commissioner adviser's allegation of interference

·2 min read
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn says the New Brunswick government didn't ask that Manju Varma's report be shelved.  (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn says the New Brunswick government didn't ask that Manju Varma's report be shelved. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn says she doesn't understand why an adviser to the commissioner on systemic racism would suggest there's been political interference in her work.

"I really don't know what he's talking about," Dunn said Tuesday, the day after the adviser to commissioner Manju Varma announced he was resigning.

In his resignation letter to Varma, Robert Tay-Burroughs questioned the government's committee to Varma's independence ad end expressed doubt her recommendations would be received in good faith.

Varma had been set to release a mid-term report in April into systemic racism in the province. That report included a recommendation for a special inquiry into systemic racism against Indigenous peoples.

Varma cancelled plans to release the report after she met with Dunn and Premier Blaine Higgs.

Submitted by Robert Tay-Burroughs
Submitted by Robert Tay-Burroughs

She had shared the report with Indigenous groups, and on Monday Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc., or MTI, a non-profit made up of the nine Mi'kmaw communities, released a copy to the media.

The next day, Tay-Burroughs posted his letter of resignation.

"It remains unclear to me that the leadership of this government can respect your independence, which raises my doubts that it will — if it ever intended to — receive your recommendations in good faith and with an open mind," Tay-Burroughs wrote to Varma.

Province denies pressure

Dunn said that while there was nothing in Varma's mandate that called for a mid-term report, the province did not try to stop it from being published.

"At no time did anyone try to say to the commissioner that she had to shelve the report or restrict her capacity in any way, shape or form," said Dunn.

Pierre Fournier/CBC
Pierre Fournier/CBC

Dunn did not say why the report was not published, but said she'd been concerned about "so many gaps" in it.

"I'm not blaming the commissioner for any of this," Dunn said.

"I think people were hesitant to come forward. I think people are reluctant to talk about some of these experiences."

Lack of consultation

Dunn said the commissioner complained that some provincial departments were not being co-operative while she did her work.

"That's one of the reasons actually we had the discussion with the premier because I was impacting upon him that this is really, really crucial work and we need your help," said Dunn.

Varma told CBC News she wouldn't comment on what was talked about at the meeting with Dunn and Higgs that preceded the decision to shelve the report.

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