Quebec report overlooks Indigenous women's safety, advocates say
‘It’s like the commission overshadowed what was the heart of its mandate'
A new report that found Indigenous people face systemic discrimination in public services in Quebec doesn't do enough to address the allegations of police abuse that led to the commission in the first place, an advocate says.
“What is not in the report is a great concern to us,” said Edith Cloutier, the executive director of Val-d'Or's Native Friendship Centre, who has worked with the women who came forward with allegations of abuse in 2015.
“There is no clear recommendation around the Sûreté du Québec in the harm done to Indigenous people.”
The report, made public Monday by retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens, details some of the ways in which “institutional practices, standards, laws and policies remain a source of discrimination and inequality” for First Nations and Inuit across Quebec.
The report says it is “urgent to act” and makes 142 recommendations for improvements across several jurisdictions, including youth protection, health and social services, justice, corrections and policing.
Cloutier commended the work of the commissioner, but says it falls short when it comes to including recommendations to protect Indigenous women, like those who came forward in Val-d'Or.
“To this day, four years later, they still feel unsafe,” Cloutier said. “We're disappointed. It's like the commission overshadowed what was the heart of its mandate.”
'What do we do with the women who came forward?'
After Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête revealed the allegations in Val-d'Or in 2015, eight SQ officers were suspended and there was an investigation by Montreal police, but none of the officers were ever charged.
The commission was launched amid mounting pressure for the provincial government to act.
The previous Liberal government gave the commission a broad mandate: to look at the relationship between Indigenous people and a range of public services, not just the police.
“I recognize the work that Commissioner Viens has done,” said Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women.
“But the big thing that is missing is really the safety of Indigenous women. What do we do with the women who came forward?”
Michel testified twice at the commission and her group made a series of recommendations around policing and the justice system, including the creation of a professional order for police officers and a special tribunal to handle sexual assault cases.
Michel said many of their recommendations were overlooked in the commissioner's calls to action.
“I cannot hide my disappointment,” she said. “Our women need to be safe, our women need protection.”
The commissioner did recommend amending the province's Police Act to extend the time limit from one year to three for filing police ethics complaints, and information campaigns to raise awareness about existing complaints processes among Indigenous populations.
At a news conference following the report's release, Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said, “We cannot comment on the choices that were made by the commissioner” when it comes to his recommendations.
But she said the government will “keep on working to improve the general feeling of safety,” of Indigenous women.
In a statement, the Sûreté du Québec said it will collaborate with stakeholders around the report's recommendations.
It added it plans to work with “the government, the First Nations and all of our partners to follow through on the effort to build a relationship of trust and respect.”
One of the police unions, the Association des policiers et policières du Quebec, said it supports most of the calls to action, but in a statement underscored that a commission of inquiry is not a trial, and said commission reports are essentially hearsay evidence.
Apology from the province
Quebec Premier François Legault has invited Indigenous leaders, including Cloutier and Michel, to Quebec's National Assembly on Wednesday, where he is expected to deliver an apology, something the Viens report recommends.
While Michel welcomes such a gesture, she wants more than that.
“I agree to receive an apology, but can we also have concrete commitments to the implementation of these recommendations?”
WATCH – From The National, Quebec should apologize to Indigenous people, Viens report says:
With files from Benjamin Shingler