- Anyone with information is asked to contact Montreal police at 1-844-615-3118
Quebec provincial police officers under investigation for sex abuse against aboriginal women in the community of Val-d'Or have either been put on leave or transferred to administrative duty.
The eight officers had remained on duty since the allegations were brought forward last May.
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At a news conference this morning, Public Safety Minister Lise Thériault also announced the transfer of the investigation from Quebec provincial police to the Montreal police and suggested the government may launch an inquiry into the matter.
The flurry of moves come after Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête reported stories of sexual violence targeting aboriginal women in the Quebec town of 32,000.
Speaking publicly for the first time, women told the program that 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.
Thériault said her office has been aware of the investigation since May but told reporters she was "just as shocked as the rest of the population" when she learned of the details on Enquête.
She said the Quebec government "acted as soon as we had the facts."
Allegations date back at least a decade
At a news conference of his own, Sûreté du Québec Capt. Guy Lapointe said some of the allegations date back 10 years and "aren't a reflection" of the police force.
"I don't want to go into details of the investigation," he said.
"I'll just go as far as saying that we weren't aware of all the allegations that were put forward in the report yesterday."
He said the five officers still working in Val-d'Or were sent home, while three other officers who had already been transferred outside the community were shifted to administrative duty.
Lapointe said of the 14 allegations, two involved sexual misconduct. He said sexual assault allegations were also made against a ninth officer, who is now deceased.
He said the force would co-operate with Montreal police in its probe.
The Montreal police service issued its own statement Friday afternoon saying that investigators will contact every complainant.
The force invited anyone with information regarding the incidents reported by Enquête to communicate with investigators at 1-844-615-3118.
Val d'Or, about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal, is located close to several Algonquin communities.
'A national tragedy'
Speaking with reporters in Val-d'Or earlier today, Édith Cloutier, director of the local native friendship centre, called for the Quebec government to take immediate action by calling an inquiry into the matter.
"A national tragedy is unfolding here, at our door," she said, while offering her praise to the women involved for going public with the allegations.
Cloutier added that as of Friday morning, other aboriginal women were calling or dropping by the Native Friendship Centre with their own assault allegations.
"They want to file complaints," said Cloutier. "We understand that there will be more women coming out ... We know that's just the tip of the iceberg."
The family of Sindy Ruperthouse, a 45-year-old First Nations woman who went missing from the community 17 months ago, also shared its story.
Sindy's parents, Johnny Wylde and Émilie Ruperthouse Wylde accused police of failing to take her disappearance seriously.
David Kistabish, chief of the nearby Abitibiwinni First Nation, also said the Quebec government needs to do more. He said it's time for a provincial inquiry.
Romeo Saganash, the NDP MP for the area, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak the seriousness of the allegations mean a broader inquiry should be launched.
On Thursday, Premier Philippe Couillard called the allegations troubling, but wouldn't commit to any specific actions.
"I think we must all not only deplore, but strongly condemn, these acts if they are indeed corroborated by the investigation," he said Thursday.