FREDERICTON (GNB) – The provincial government has appointed Manju Varma as the commissioner on systemic racism to develop an understanding of the nature and impact of systemic racism in New Brunswick.

The commissioner, who will operate independently from government, will focus on the following objectives:

•           Conducting a public consultation on the nature and impact of systemic racism on newcomers, Indigenous, Black, people of colour and other marginalized groups in New Brunswick.

•           Thorough documentation of experiences in an effort to gather qualitative and quantitative data – performed through a number of means including, but not limited to: a review of previous recommendations; establishing a dedicated website; holding virtual meetings; receiving presentations and written submissions by email, mail or on the website; in-person meetings with the commissioner by invitation and on request; and virtual consultation sessions with foreign nationals, employers and other groups as necessary.

The commissioner will produce a final report by the end of September 2022, with recommendations for the government on the development of a provincial strategy and an action plan to address sector concerns such as: barriers to opportunity; equitable access to programs and services; and systemic racism in health care, education, social development, housing, employment and criminal justice. The commissioner may also identify and address other sectors that impact these designated groups. The final report will be a public document.

“I am incredibly honoured to take part in this important undertaking,” said Varma. “Having been an immigrant and having experienced racism growing up in this province, I personally know there is systemic racism here that must be addressed. As I embark on this journey, I do so with an open mind and no preconceptions. I am excited to get to work and encourage all New Brunswickers to take part as we work together to create an inclusive province where everyone is treated in an equitable manner.”

Varma is the lead for the new office of Inclusion, Equity and Anti-Racism for the Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency (ACOA) since 2020, a federal government initiative aiming at fostering its internal corporate diversity and inclusiveness.

She has a doctorate in Anti-Racist Education from the University of Toronto and was an assistant-professor from 2000 to 2008 with the University of New Brunswick’s faculty of education. She also has training in conflict mediation from Harvard Law School, in negotiation from Dalhousie University, and in change management.

Throughout her professional career of more than 30 years, Varma has facilitated workshops on diversity and inclusion, cultural competency and awareness training. She has worked with First Nations and racialized communities, refugees, Indigenous women, youth, and various levels of government and has published both nationally and internationally on various topics such as systemic racism, mental health and inclusive communities.

The selection of Varma as commissioner was made by cabinet following an interview process that was led by the Executive Council Office.

The provincial government will fund the costs related to establishing the commissioner and her work, estimated at $500,000.