The Grand Council of the Crees

THE CREE NATION DEEPLY DISTURBED BY LACK OF ACTION ON POLICE ABUSE OF INDIGENOUS WOMEN IN VAL D’OR

Posted: 2016-11-18

NEMASKA, Eeyou Istchee (November 18, 2016) – The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)/Cree Nation Government is deeply disturbed by reports concluding that the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) will not prosecute any of the charges of abuse brought forth by Indigenous women against officers of the Sûreté du Québec.

An astonishing total of 38 separate complaints of police misconduct and abuse across the province were submitted by the SPVM to the DPCP for review. Although it was not expected that all complaints would lead to charges, it is very difficult to believe that none of the complaints concerning the allegations in our region provided sufficient evidence to merit prosecution.

The presumption of innocence and the burden of proof are important principles of our justice system used against Indigenous people when there is a cultural bias in deciding who is and isn’t credible. The Quebec judicial system is broken and needs to be examined in depth, followed by fundamental changes if we are to end the marginalization of Indigenous people. Failure to do so will only ensure that other Indigenous women will have no confidence that their own stories will be taken seriously. Is this the kind of system we want?

“The Indigenous women who bravely spoke out against abuse and systemic racism within police forces feel that the justice system has let them down. And many Indigenous people feel that the justice system has failed them, once again. The Government of Québec cannot stay idle. Working tables and discussions won’t satisfy us. We reiterate our demand that the Quebec Government launch a Provincial Judicial Inquiry into police misconduct towards Indigenous women without further delay.” – Grand Chief Dr. Matthew Coon Come.

The independent observer Fannie Lafontaine has referred to systemic racism underlying police discrimination toward Indigenous people, especially women. She makes it clear that a police investigation, while necessary, is not an adequate response. She notes that Indigenous organizations have unanimously called for a provincial inquiry, but Québec has simply delegated to the Federal MMIW Inquiry the responsibility to look into Québec institutions, including the police. Me Lafontaine notes that other provinces have done just the opposite, launching their own inquiry into police practices toward Indigenous people, which will then feed into the Federal Inquiry. She raises serious concerns about the capacity of the Federal Inquiry to shed light on systemic issues specific to Québec.

The Federal MMIW Inquiry is clearly not the full answer. Issues specific to police abuse of Indigenous women in Québec will get lost in that Inquiry’s very broad mandate. Caroline Bennett, Federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs, has herself urged Quebec to hold its own inquiry. And the Federal process will take too long: the preliminary report is due only in November 2017, and the final report only in November 2018. Indigenous women in Québec cannot wait that long.

It is for these very reasons that we, the AFNQL, AFN, QNW, the City of Val d’Or, and numerous other organizations have unanimously called for a Provincial Judicial Inquiry to look into relations between Indigenous populations, the police and the justice system in order to find solutions.

The Government of Québec continues to resist the overwhelming evidence of the need for a Provincial Judicial Inquiry. Instead, it offers Indigenous people a “working table” and more discussion. But the situation has moved well past working tables and discussion. So one has to ask, why is the Government resisting the Provincial Judicial Inquiry so strongly?

Québec established a Provincial Judicial Inquiry to look into police surveillance of journalists within hours of the story coming to light. Yet when First Nations called for a Provincial Judicial Inquiry to look into police abuse of Indigenous women, Québec first resisted, and then passed off the matter, almost ten months later, to a Federal Inquiry. The double standard could not be more striking. The message is that Indigenous women, Indigenous people, are less important than non-Indigenous people.

The Government of Quebec must demonstrate its commitment to equal justice for all and its willingness to address systemic racism within its institutions by launching a Provincial Judicial Inquiry without further delay.