Canadians and Quebeckers may recall the horrifying allegations that emerged from Val-d’Or, Québec in 2015: Aboriginal women in the community accused provincial police officers of at least two decades of sexual assault. These allegations initially led to an investigation by the Montréal police, who handed the 37 files over to Crown prosecutors a year later. Ultimately, the Crown decided not to lay charges.
In December of 2016, the Québec government announced that it would conduct a two-year inquiry into how Indigenous people across the province are treated by public bodies, such as police, health care, and youth protection, starting in Val-d’Or, Québec. The inquiry is intended to complement the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Led by retired Québec Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens, the inquiry began in June of 2017. For thirteen weeks, the commission conducted hearings out of Val-d’Or. This past Monday, the commission began a new phase in Montréal.
In 2017, the commission was visited by every Algonquin nation and two of the three Mohawk communities. In 2018, the commission is in the process of visiting the Innu, the Naskapi, the Inuit and the Cree. The final report is due in September 2019, but worries remain about whether it will lead to actual change.
Much of the news coverage of the inquiry has relayed testimony about alleged police mistreatment and the way the criminal justice system more generally fails the Indigenous people of Québec. It is well known that Indigenous people are far overrepresented within prisons country wide, but the extent of the latent and overt racism is coming to be known clearly by the commission. As members of Indigenous communities from across the province ask for more humane treatment, members of Québec’s public service also call the province to action. As retired Crown prosecutor Pierre Rousseau testified, Québec’s justice system has “failed in its relations with Indigenous people.”
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.