P.E.I. needs an independent racism commissioner, Liberal MLA says

·3 min read
P.E.I. Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly looks to New Brunswick as an example of what can be possible if the province decides to appoint its own independent racism commissioner. (CBC - image credit)
P.E.I. Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly looks to New Brunswick as an example of what can be possible if the province decides to appoint its own independent racism commissioner. (CBC - image credit)

A Liberal MLA is renewing his call for the province to hire an independent commissioner to deal with systemic racism on the Island.

Gord McNeilly says the role — which would focus on public consultation, conduct independent investigations and come up with plans to address pockets of racial concerns — is needed and would be a positive step from the government.

"What I'm finding is that we don't know who to turn to and we don't know where we need assistance, and we have to do better," he said.

"We want to make sure that we're providing [people] the information and resources so that the next generation ... can have these conversations and develop new relationships and move forward."

'Other provinces moving faster than P.E.I.'

New Brunswick appointed its first independent racism commissioner last September and is expected to produce a public report of recommendations to the government in the fall this year.

McNeilly looks to that province as an example of what can be possible, adding that having a racism commissioner here would have helped in the recent investigation into racism in hockey on P.E.I.

Supplied by Government of New Brunswick
Supplied by Government of New Brunswick

Last year, 16-year-old hockey player Mark Connors, who is from Nova Scotia, was subjected to racial slurs on the ice and in his hotel during a weekend tournament in Charlottetown.

While Hockey P.E.I. conducted its own investigations, McNeilly said a commissioner could have provided the hockey organization with advice, as well as support for schools on how to discuss this situation.

He thinks having a commissioner could have resulted in more positive outcomes.

There are resources available, such as groups like BIPOC USHR and the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I., but McNeilly said those groups are very busy trying to change the culture of racism on the Island.

"Black people, people from the BIPOC community, should not be tasked with providing the anti-racism solutions necessary in the organizations," he said.

'That's not good enough on this file'

Dante Bazard, P.E.I.'s first Black human rights commissioner and the province's first anti-racism policy advisor, said there isn't one approach to dealing with racism.

Nicole Williams/CBC
Nicole Williams/CBC

He said there is a need to have an independent person working to bring accountability forward beyond the jurisdiction of what other organizations like the Human Rights Commission might do.

"There's multiple solutions that we need to be looking into in order to address [racism]," said Bazard.

McNeilly said he has written letters to Premier Dennis King to ask the province to put this in place for the near future.

"Premier King and I have had good discussions about it, but that's where it stops and that's not good enough on this file," he said.

Late last month in the legislature, the premier said he met with New Brunswick's independent racism commissioner to talk about the process of establishing the role on P.E.I.

The premier's office issued a statement to CBC News saying the government is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate racism, adding it will "consider any and all options" to do so.

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