To the women who have come forward, you are not alone. There are many organizations and people who have joined their voices to that of the Cree Nation in our continued call for a Provincial Judicial Inquiry to examine the relations between police and Indigenous women and the administration of justice. After Bianca, Angela, and Priscilla dared to be brave, to speak up, and break down the walls of silence, casting a light into the dark corners of violence and abuse suffered by many other Indigenous women, they, and the many other women who came forward, knew this would be an uphill battle. But, enough is enough. I believe you, we believe you. Even the Independent Observer and the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions are not denying that the events happened.
It was disturbing to listen to the DCPP state that, “because there are no charges, it does not mean that the events did not happen.” The prosecutors’ admission of the limitations of the justice system was equally disturbing. The women came forward with different events of sexual assault, excessive force, starlight tours, and varied threats and assaults at the hands of police officers in Rouyn- Noranda, Val d’Or, Chibougamau, and Sept-Iles. What has happened and will continue to happen with these women is not isolated to Val d’Or. This is a province-wide crisis needing the attention of the province.
The effects of institutionalized systemic racism we are witness to, go beyond charging an officer with a criminal offense, because, once that officer is charged or not charged as we have seen last week, the case is closed and life goes on. But, let me tell you, life does not go on for the women who continue to fear the police, who fear reprisals, and fear a justice system that more often works against them than with them. This system is broken and failing to serve Indigenous women with the same dignity and equality the rest of the province receives. There is a problem in the way Indigenous women are being treated.
When a young woman in Quebec City alleges to being the victim of sexual assault by a Liberal MNA, the Quebec government quickly reacts by announcing a 5-year strategic plan geared towards consultations and programs to counter sexual assaults on campuses with a price tag of $200 million dollars. When journalists discover that they are being spied on by the SPVM, the Quebec government again quickly kicks into high gear and announces that an inquiry will be launched to explore what happened here. The double standard could not be more striking. How are we, as Indigenous leaders, to explain the double standard to our people?
Yet, the Government of Quebec continues to resist and ignore the overwhelming evidence of the need for a Provincial Judicial Inquiry and a revision of how justice is administered to and for Indigenous populations. The message we received was simple, loud, and clear: the justice system has failed these women and will continue to fail them. Now, how are we, as Leaders of our communities, supposed to explain to our people that they must continue going to the police to denounce any act of violence committed to them by police?
To hear the answer to this question, we will have to wait several years. Because, the Quebec Government has willingly surrendered its responsibility to a body of federal commissioners who will themselves decide the terms of reference of a mandate and how it will apply to the crisis happening right now in Quebec. We are to trust that the SQ and their union will allow a body of federal commissioners to examine how officers carry out their work and further accept to adapt their methods accordingly. Why is the Quebec Government resisting a path towards reconciliation so strongly?
Inarguably, institutionalized systemic racism exists within Quebec. The Independent Observer, Fannie Lafontaine, tasked with overseeing the SPVM’s investigation was clear: the investigation was fair and impartial. However, she adds that a criminal investigation does not look at systemic or collective issues, and clearly in this case, there is a systemic issue to address. The SPVM’s investigation cannot be the only element in response to a profound crisis steeped in institutionalized systemic racism. Me Lafontaine also notes that many questions remain in regards to the strategy the SQ and Quebec Government will use to rebuild bridges of trust with Indigenous communities.
That the Premier and his Ministers continue to stand by the decree they adopted to allow the National MMIW Inquiry Commission to assume responsibility in their place is puzzling. Quebec will not be included in drafting the terms of reference of this mandate, nor will they be committing any resources to help identify and eradicate a long-standing and deep-rooted problem. Fannie Lafontaine’s observations are also clear in this regard and questions if the National MMIW Inquiry will suffice to shed light on issues of systemic racism specific to Quebec. Even a recent UN CEDAW report states concerns that the National MMIW Inquiry will not have the required internal mechanisms for the independent review of police investigations. Again we ask; why is Quebec resisting?
Responsible leadership is to assume responsibility of events unfolding before us, whether they are good or bad events. The Government of Quebec must demonstrate its commitment to equal justice for all and its willingness to acknowledge and address the institutionalized systemic racism that is jeopardizing relations between our communities. The more we resist it, the deeper it will continue to root itself. As stated over a year ago now, I will stand with these brave women and anyone else who will work to bring an end to violence against Indigenous women.
We are therefore imploring that Quebec launch its own Provincial Judicial Inquiry to address systemic racism within its institutions without further delay.