Allegations of abuse of power and assault by Quebec provincial police officers in Val-d'Or, Que., have led to an internal investigation, a spokeswoman for the Sûreté du Québec has confirmed.
It comes after Radio-Canada's investigative program, Enquête, uncovered stories of sexual violence toward aboriginal women in the Quebec town of 32,000. Val d'Or, about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal, is located close to several Algonquin communities.
Speaking publicly for the first time, alleged victims told Enquête about a pattern involving the provincial police over a period of at least two decades.
They say officers routinely picked up women who appeared to be intoxicated, drove them out of town and left them to walk home in the cold. Some allege they were physically assaulted or made to perform sex acts.
Allegation of drugs for sex
Bianca Moushoun recounted how male officers would give her beer they kept stored in the trunk of their vehicles. She said the men would later take her to a remote area.
"We went to a road in the woods, and that's where they would ask me to perform fellatio," said Moushoun. They would pay her "$100 for the service" and "$100 to keep quiet," she added.
"Sometimes they paid me in coke. Sometimes they paid me in cash, sometimes both."
She said the incidents occurred about two years ago.
Another woman, who spoke on condition her name not be used, said she was assaulted by an officer in his car on the road between Val-d'Or and Waswanipi, a Cree community about 275 kilometres northeast of the town.
"He wanted a blow job. I said no," she wrote. "He threw me out and grabbed my hair. He left me alone on the highway."
Photos of the woman, which she says were taken after that incident, show a cut above her right eye and a wound on the top of her head. Both were sustained in the altercation with the police officer, she said.
Not all 'bad apples'
Carole Marcil, a bartender at Le Manoir in Val-d'Or, has heard such stories from aboriginal women countless times. She estimates as many as 30 women in the area have had similar encounters.
"If they don't perform fellatio … they get massacred," Marcil said. The women "show up with bumps, bruises, punches and burns."
Marcil stresses "not all" provincial police officers in Val-d'Or act that way.
"There are two or three or four bad apples [among them]," Marcil said.
Officers questioned, but still on the job
Since the women spoke to Enquête, some have filed formal complaints, and an internal police investigation has begun.
"Fourteen files have been opened for allegations related to the behaviour of our officers," said police spokeswoman Martine Asselin. "These are allegations, not charges for now," she added.
"All the files will be transferred to [the Crown prosecutor's office], and we'll see what happens after that," Asselin said.
About 50 officers are based at the Val-d'Or Sûreté du Québec detachment. Eight among them have been questioned by investigators, Asselin said. They remain on the job.
The investigation is being led by the force's professional standards directorate.
The investigators involved are not based in Val-d'Or, Asselin said.