Penalizing the poor in Val-d’Or

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A recent report, titled The Judiciarization of Homelessness in Val-d’Or, shows that racial profiling in the northern city is a fact of life.

The report found that Val-d’Or police target Indigenous people for minor infractions, with 79.2% of all tickets handed out from 2012-2014 given to those of First Nations descent. Of individuals who received more than 10 tickets in this period, 95% were Indigenous and of those who received more than 15 tickets, 100% were Indigenous. The report was researched and produced by the universities of Montreal and Ottawa, in conjunction with the Observatoire sur les profilages.

Public faith in criminal justice system and law enforcement is part of the foundation of a democracy. Quebec’s justice system requires all Quebecers, regardless of ethnic or racial background to have confidence in the fairness of the process. Police in any community must have the confidence and trust of the public trusting to effectively do their job. The report indicates this is lacking in Val-d’Or.


Cree Justice Director Donald Nicholls noted that the federal government introduced changes to the Criminal Code of Canada in 1996 to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in prisons in Canada. At the time it was reported around 10% of the prison population is Aboriginal even though Aboriginal people only represented 2% of the national population.

“Today, this situation has worsened with almost 25% of the prison population being Aboriginal people, while only representing close to 4% of the national population,” said Nicholls. “This recent report suggests that unpaid fines are a contributing to the number of Aboriginal people being incarcerated in Quebec. If this is the reality we face, we need to work together to find ways to reduce the numbers not continue to increase them.”

One of the problems facing poor people penalized for minor offences is the lack of an alternative to paying the fines incurred. Three Cree people are currently in federal penitentiaries serving two or more years for non-violent crimes because they were unable to pay their fines. The report says that the “overwhelming majority of offences refer to non-violent acts.”

One of the report’s recommendations states, “A moratorium should be imposed on incarceration for non-payment of fines in Val-d’Or, fines should be cancelled and alternative measures should be put in place. The Government of Quebec should modify the Code of Penal Procedure to eliminate the possibility of incarcerating people for default payment of fines in cases where individuals are unable to pay.”


Sharon Hunter, the director of social development at the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre, said the study “confirms what our people have been telling us for years – First Nations members in the streets fall victim to discrimination and profiling that accentuates their distress, suffering and vulnerability.”

The report concludes “that there are several indicators of social and racial profiling and systemic discrimination in Val-d’Or against homeless individuals and, in particular, Indigenous individuals who are homeless.”

These include:

– An absence or lack of social responses and support for homeless people, in particular Indigenous people;

– Several challenges in terms of integration and access to services in the city for Indigenous people (including housing);

– A high incidence of violence and poverty among this population;

– An absence or lack of social and health in Indigenous communities as well as important systemic barriers for communities to exercise governance and deal with their social problems;

– A high number of calls against homeless people, including Indigenous people;

– The choice to resort to the police (SQ) as first or sole responder to social problems;

– A massive judiciarization (or criminalization) of homeless people (high number of tickets) and in some cases, the use of the judicial system to obtain fundamental health and social services;

– That tickets are issued in disproportionate numbers against Indigenous people (75%). Moreover, 95% of those who are over criminalized (10 tickets and +) are Indigenous (100% of those who received more than 15 tickets). It seems clear that law enforcement has a disparate impact on Indigenous people who are homeless.

– Some indicators of police harassment: 343 people out of 922 received at least once more than one ticket on the same day; 96 individuals received more than two tickets on the same day;

– The use of incarceration for default payment of fines in cases where individuals are unable to pay.

The full report can be found at in French only.

In addition, the Nation has heard of starlight rides where individuals allegedly have been driven from Val-d’Or past Louvicourt. If this has happened to you and you would like to tell your story, please email the Nation at or You can also call 514-272-3077 and ask for Joshua Grant or Will Nicholls.

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