New allegations surface in Val d’Or, Friendship Centre appoints justice coordinator

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Allegations of abuse by Sûreté du Québec officers against Indigenous women in Val-d’Or are continuing to make waves, but some of them are rolling in good news for the community.

Lorena Attoumani began work in the newly created position of Access to Justice Coordinator at the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre. A lawyer, Attoumani will help members of Native communities navigate the Quebec legal system and accompany them through the investigative and court processes.

Her position is financed by an emergency fund set up in the wake of allegations last October in a report by Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête. In it, several women said certain local SQ officers had forced or paid them to perform sex acts, or had driven them to isolated areas and left them to walk home in the cold.

23-12 New allegations against SQ - New Justice Coordinator Lorena Fairouza Attoumani

New Justice Coordinator Lorena Attoumani

Last fall, former Native Women’s Association of Canada President Michèle Audette told CBC that, “if it [is happening] in Val-d’Or, I’m sure it’s happening in Sept-Îles, Montreal, Quebec or other cities.” Her fears have been confirmed. In late March, fresh allegations surfaced from women in Val-d’Or, Schefferville and Maniwaki.

Following these new complaints, the Quebec government announced that investigations involving Native women and the police would now be handled exclusively by the Montreal police force (unless its officers are accused). They added a second hotline for complaints: 1-888-844-2094. Calls will be directed to a paralegal counselling service for Aboriginal people.

Édith Cloutier, the executive director of the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre and president of the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec, called the new moves “responsible.”

But Cloutier lamented in a news release that, “since the crisis in Val-d’Or began, no follow-up mechanism has been created to keep these women informed about developments in the process. We are concerned that the application of these new actions will extend the process, thereby increasing women’s uncertainty and further shaking their trust in Quebec’s justice system.”

In an interview with the Nation, Cloutier said the creation of an Access to Justice Coordinator was intended to offset some of the inadequacies of the current system.

Months before the original Enquête report, the Friendship Centre had already begun working with the complainants. “We worked on getting a support system around those women before they filed a complaint,” said Cloutier. “We wanted to provide an environment where they would feel safe.”

That meant ensuring their first meetings with investigators took place away from the police station, that they were briefed on what to expect, had access to social workers and the support of Elders. The assistance is needed for all female victims, she said. But, “imagine you’re an Aboriginal woman, living on the street. You know, you’re at a low point but you’re even lower in the system because you’re Aboriginal. There’s systemic discrimination within the government system, in the justice system, in the police system.”

That’s why Attoumani’s first task in her new job will be to accompany the women who have come forward through the judicial system, at task she often performed as a volunteer with the Centre des Femmes de Montréal during her legal studies.

“The top priority for the moment is to ensure the follow-up with those women,” Attoumani said, adding that her job is not to act as their lawyer. “They already have their own lawyers.”


Attoumani said the move from Montreal to Val-d’Or – a city she calls a crossroads of Native communities – offers her greater challenges. “I’m personally very interested in the Native Friendship Centre,” she explained. “It’s really an ideal job because it allows me to combine my desire to participate in access to justice for citizens and to broaden my knowledge of the Native milieu.”

She’s no stranger to big leaps, having been raised in the Mayotte Islands, a department of the French Republic near Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. She went from there to continental France to study law and finished her legal studies in Quebec four years ago.

The first requirement of the job posting calls for “the ability to listen to people, to show empathy and to quickly identify their concerns.” She’ll also have to explain complex systems simply, and will be called on to “sensitize, simplify, inform, and to connect the community with the Quebec legal system.”
“I want people to be aware that they can go to the Centre for legal information, so that they are not left abandoned by the system,” Attoumani explained. “When they have a grievance, they should seek out resources – whether it’s through the Native Friendship Centre or other centres. They should dare to seek out help, dare to fight back and to denounce injustice.”

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