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Indigenous leaders issue challenge to Quebec with today’s release of Viens report: Act on it

After more than nine months of harrowing testimony from Indigenous people in Quebec about the abuse, mistreatment and neglect they have endured, the much-anticipated final report of the Viens inquiry is to be made public this morning.

Viens Commission witness Johnny Anautak sobbed as he recounted how he’d made a trip back to Akulivik to see his ill mother but was arrested for breaching bail conditions and never got to see her before she died. ‘I wish I could turn back time to go see my mom,’ he said. (Viens Commission)

After more than nine months of harrowing testimony from Indigenous people in Quebec about the abuse, mistreatment and neglect they have endured over the decades, the much-anticipated final report of the Viens commission of inquiry is expected to be released this morning.

The report says the Quebec government has failed to meet the needs of First Nations and Inuit, and it is “impossible to deny” that Indigenous peoples in Quebec are victims of systemic discrimination when it comes to accessing public services, according to La Presse, which has obtained a copy of the summary.

La Presse is reporting there are at least 142 calls to action in the 500-page report, including a public apology from the provincial government without delay.

The report also calls for changes in the fields of policing, social services, justice and mental health services.

And that it calls for changes to the school curriculum to properly reflect the history of First Nations and Inuit in Quebec, La Presse says.

The inquiry, led by retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens, was launched in December 2016 by the former Liberal government, under pressure to act in the wake of an explosive Radio-Canada investigation into allegations of police misconduct against Indigenous women in Val-d’Or.

Viens was given a broad mandate: to look into the treatment of First Nations and Inuit people in Quebec by the provincial public service, including health care and youth protection agencies, the correctional system, justice and police.

The commission wrapped up its hearings last December.

A total of 1,188 stories and expert opinions were shared over the 38 weeks of hearings.

Although the hearings were held mainly in Val-d’Or, the commission also travelled to Mani-Utenam, Mistissini and Montreal, as well as Kuujjuaq and Kuujjuarrapik in northern Quebec.

In all, 277 citizens came forward with their personal stories of having dealt with police, hospital staff and other public services, including representatives of the province’s youth protection agencies and the justice system.

‘Their stories must not be forgotten’

The president of Quebec Native Women, Viviane Michel, told the commission on its opening day in June 2017 how she hoped this inquiry will lead, once and for all, to improved relations between Indigenous people and the people who run Quebec’s public institutions.

At the end of the hearings, Michel expressed her concern that the government had tried to “drown out” the voices of Indigenous women in Val-d’Or who’d first dared to go public with their allegations of police mistreatment.

“Their stories must not be forgotten. They decided to make this sacrifice to make sure other women didn’t have to live through what they went through,” said Michel.

AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard told the inquiry commissioner, Jacques Viens, Indigenous people in Quebec are so conditioned to being discriminated against they consider it ‘normal’ behaviour. (Viens Commission)

Ghislain Picard, the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, said he is not expecting the findings to include what he really wants: accountability from police about their treatment of Indigenous women.

Picard, who appeared four times before the commission, said it will be important to make sure whatever recommendations are made in the report are acted upon.

“Too many times in the past, we’ve seen commissions come and go, recommendations come and go, with very little action,” he said.

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