If you've been following me for a while, even outside of BlackLantic, you know that I have been extremely skeptical of the work of the Commissioner for Systemic Racism for the entirety that it has been in the news. My skepticism is for reasons fully unrelated to Manju Varma, her team, or any of the work they are trying to do. My skepticism has been born from the nature of the NB Government, their blatant racism and how they have treated this role from the start.
In case our readers had forgotten, the role had been proposed in May of 2021, a year after George Floyd's murder. The deadline for the report to be completed by the Commissioner for Systemic Racism was originally March 2022. By September 2021 they had still not hired anyone. Conveniently after Justin Trudeau was re-elected as Prime Minister, that same week Higgs announced that Manju Varma would be hired as the commissioner, and that the new deadline would be December 2022. Outside of the fact that Blaine Higgs has been blatantly racist in his treatment of Indigenous people (not enshrining Truth and Reconciliation day, going to court over unceded land and telling government staff not to use that term), the way in which the hiring process for this position went felt as if it was certainly not a priority.
Since being hired, Manju herself has stated that her work is limited. She cannot take on actual complains, though she recommended someone in this role in another province do that. She has expressed concern over the short amount of time she has to complete the reporting, as well as the lack of support from some communities who feel she is working with Higgs and not simply creating a report for him. Despite these complaints, she has made time to do a podcast around her work - a podcast which I am still unsure whether or not it is funded by GovNB or not, but it definitely is bilingual!
This week, Robert Tay-Borroughs has stepped down as Varma's advisor stating that he also feels the constraints in which they are to produce this report leave the work impossible, that some of Varma's inquiries and requests were shelved after speaking to Higgs and Arlene Dunn, and that more specifically their work will not meet the needs of First Nation's people in the way it is supposed to. Tay-Borroughs' stepping down has also caused chiefs of 9 Mi'kmaw communities to decide to no longer work with Varma as they feel her report is being suppressed. How disappointing.
What saddens me the most about all of this is that I felt from the start that Higgs, being the racist that he is in my opinion, was never going to follow through with any of the recommendations Varma made. From the start I have said that this entire endeavour is a waste of time, money, and resources because the Higgs government will never look at the White Supremacist systems in place in the government and go, "we should fix that and make it more inclusive". Not a chance. What's even more discouraging and disgusting, is not even letting these people do the work in the first place. I find it more upsetting to learn that Higgs is actively standing in the way of the person he hired to even make the recommendations. There isn't even a pretence that this report could be successful because the recommendations are being shelved, the inquiries are being stopped, relationships with racialized communities are being halted and this is resulting in one of only two of Varma's staff to walk away. It is incredibly alarming and disturbing,
Moreover, I find the specific treatment of Indigenous peoples during the process of making this report to be the most concerning. Varma's inquiry into the policing and criminal justice system's treatment of Indigenous people was halted. Considering the murder of Chantel Moore, this reeks of covering up statistics that we know indicate unfair and unjust treatment of Indigenous people. For Tay-Borroughs to go further and highlight that specifically, First Nations people will not get the help they need through this report is also alarming. Of course as a Black person I want to know what recommendations will be made for me and mine, but to have someone quitting explicitly say that one group is being neglected is astonishing. It's not astonishing that Higgs is purposefully mistreating the Indigenous, or preventing any progress for them, that's on brand for him. It's astonishing that people are aware of this behaviour, calling it out, and nothing seems to be able to be done.
That was my questions from the get-go, Had this report been created in a fair, earnest way, who would hold Higgs' government accountable to make the recommended changes. Now we know that this man is purposefully presenting the report to be made in a fair and earnest way, and again I ask, who is going to hold anyone accountable? Time, money, resources have been wasted for two years now to create a document that is literally going to be tossed to the wayside despite how necessary it is. It's depressing to think of the progress Blaine Myron Higgs is literally halting for a province that deserves much, much better.