The former police chief of an Atikamekw community northwest of Quebec City was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison for sexually assaulting five women over a 40-year period.

Jean-Paul Néashish, who headed the Wemotaci First Nation police force in the 1970s and 1980s, was found guilty in December on 10 counts of sexual assault charges, including rape, gross indecency and sexually touching children under the age of 14. 

"[We are] relieved, I would say" said Crown prosecutor Éric Thériault, "Very, very, very relieved."

Thériault added that it is likely Néashish​'s position of power in the Wemotaci community contributed to the length of his sentence.

The Crown had asked for a seven-year sentence, the defence for two years minus a day.

​Position of power

Néashish served on the Wemotaci force for 13 years. He was also a band member in the community.

It was during his time as a police officer that Néashish committed most of the crimes. Two of the attacks happened while he was in uniform and was meant to be helping women who were intoxicated.

The court heard that Néashish told one of his victims not to speak about what happened, adding no one would believe her because he wore an officer's uniform.

Thériault said he recognized no amount of time behind bars will heal the wounds of Néashish's victims. But he hopes today's sentence will have some positive consequences. 

Constant Awashish

Constant Awashish, grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation, hopes the six-year sentence will send a positive message to other sexual assault victims. (Radio-Canada)

"I think this is a good message to other victims who might, in the future, want to come forward with accusations," he said.

​Small community

The grand chief of the Atikamekw Nation, Constant Awashish, said it will take the small community of Wemotaci a long time to heal.

"I think what's most important is that justice has been served for the victims," Awashish said.  

But the legal ordeal isn't over for one of the victims. In one incident where Néashish was found guilty, he was alleged to have had an accomplice, former Wemotaci band council chief Marcel Boivin.

Boivin is scheduled to stand trial in November on sexual assault charges.