Length of investigation into SQ in Val-d’Or leads to increasing unease

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Eight months after the Val-d’Or police crisis caused an uproar across Quebec, the lack of information, charges or any other resolution of allegations against provincial police officers in the town is leading many to question why the investigation by the Montreal police force (SPVM) is taking so long.

Several days before a community update the SPVM delivered in Val-d’Or June 7, the Quebec Crown Prosecutor’s Office announced it was still reviewing the results of the investigation and considering whether to lay charges against Surêté du Québec officers now on forced leave from the city detachment. By June 14, said AFN Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, the SPVM still could not provide details whether any of the files had gone forward. “There was no indication as to how many, if any, of the cases went to the prosecutor,” Picard told the Nation.

The investigation is dragging on a long time, Picard acknowledged, adding that many people have grown anxious to see it resolved. He said that the continually expanding set of allegations – a La Presse report listed 38 allegations by 30 people being investigated so far – has extended the process.

“We could have said, ‘Val-d’Or is one thing, let’s finish with this then decide whether there are valid accusations [in other places],’” Picard explained. “But what happened is that while police officers in Val-d’Or were being investigated, all this new stuff came out. We know there are women from Sept-Îles, women from Schefferville as well. Are there any more potential victims? Possibly. We don’t know.”

The expanding investigation demonstrates the need for a judicial inquiry into provincial police behaviour, says Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre Director Édith Cloutier

“I think it’s just the tip of an iceberg,” said Cloutier. “I think the pressure will be building, because we’re not letting go of the position that the Quebec government will need to set up an independent commission to shed full light on the issue of police authority and First Nations people in this province. It’s happening in the cities of Quebec with women and maybe men too, in terms of abuse of power. I think we’re going to need to sustain that pressure about going beyond just police inquiries.”

Edith Cloutier

Executive Director of the Val-d’Or Friendship Centre Edith Cloutier

The SPVM opened an investigation into the original allegations made to the Radio-Canada investigative program Enquète last October 22, during which 12 Aboriginal women from Val-d’Or alleged that the town’s SQ officers had taken them on Starlight Tours and abandoned them in the woods, had paid them or plied them with drugs for sex, or had sexually assaulted them. In March, a second episode of Enquète included a variety of similar allegations from Native women in communities across Quebec – including areas as far to the east of the province as the Côte Nord, and as far to the west as Maniwaki.

Picard noted that there were many discussions within the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador about the response to demand of the Quebec government. The Chiefs voted to push for a judicial inquiry, which could compel SQ officials to testify under oath.

Ghislain Picard addresses the media

Ghislain Picard at a press conference following the allegations against the SQ

Support for a judicial inquiry is not limited to the AFNQL, noted Cloutier. “This is also being requested by the Cree Nation Government, Quebec Native Women, the Val-d’Or Friendship Centre, and there are now non-Aboriginal civil-society groups such as Amnesty International that have given it support. The Official Opposition at the National Assembly of Quebec has committed themselves to supporting this. I think it’s going to go further down.”

The crisis has brought the issue of urban Aboriginals to the surface. While in most provinces across Canada, 70% of the Indigenous population lives outside of reserves, in Quebec that number is only 50%. In mid-May, Cloutier attended the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations, where she met with other international Indigenous representatives to discuss the allegations against the SQ in the context of police relationships with Indigenous communities worldwide. Cloutier presented recommendations and recently learned they were included in the session’s report of the Permanent Forum.

“What’s interesting is that in that international report that will be presented to the UN,” she said, “it clearly states that we need to look into police authority and police abuses where Aboriginal/Indigenous women are being abused or raped by police, and they give examples like what has been happening in Val-d’Or, Quebec, Canada. And then there’s Guatemala, and then there’s India.”

That could help put pressure on the Quebec, she noted.

“We all know that governments, Canada or provincial, don’t like to be pointed at,” she said. “They don’t like people saying that something’s not right and asking what they’re going to do about it. The recommendation is calling for the states to take action so that this doesn’t happen, and if it does happen, to set up a mechanism so that systemic racism stops.”

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