New phase of Quebec Indigenous inquiry focuses on personal stories

Witnesses at the public inquiry into mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec shared stories of police brutality and violence during the first day of Montreal hearings.

Witnesses shared personal experiences of violent interactions with Quebec police

Sedalia Fazio, left, opened the hearings in Montreal with a Mohawk opening address. The inquiry into mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec is headed by retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens, right. (Radio-Canada)

Witnesses at the public inquiry into mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec shared stories of police brutality and violence during the first day of Montreal hearings.

Etuk Kasulluaq, a 27-year-old Inuk from Puvurnituq, Que. — 1,636 kilometres northwest of Montreal as the crow flies — was the first to testify Monday morning.

Kasulluaq said he was thrown down the stairs and jumped on by the two officers with the Kativik Regional Police Force after they found he had breached a condition not to drink alcohol. 

"They said, 'You breached your conditions,' and I said, 'No,' and they pushed me down.… I was lying down on the ground, and they jumped on my leg," Kasulluaq said. He broke his knee and three ribs during the altercation.

"When I took deep breaths, there was big pain."

The first witness at Monday's hearings for the public inquiry into mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec speaks. 0:53

He said the officers arrested him and took him to the station to sober up, but despite relating his pain to them, the officers simply told him to go to the hospital on his own once he was released.

What they did by deeming that man innocent — we are open game; our children are open game. I'm sorry, non-Indigenous people may not feel that way, but we do.- Mohawk Sedalia Fazio

Kasulluaq, who is in custody at the Saint-Jérôme detention centre for breaching his conditions, was later prescribed morphine for three weeks for the pain caused by his cracked ribs. 

He said he was arrested once again weeks later with his girlfriend. Kasulluaq says they were both made to strip naked in their cells.

'Our children are open game'

Before Kasulluaq's testimony, the hearing began with an opening ceremony led by a Mohawk woman, Sedalia Fazio, who also conducts sweat lodge ceremonies at the Botanical Gardens in Montreal.

Fazio spoke about an all-white jury in Battleford, Sask., finding farmer Gerald Boushie not guilty in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old from Red Pheasant Cree nation who ventured onto Stanley's property in 2016.

"Right now, what they did by deeming that man innocent — we are open game; our children are open game. I'm sorry, non-Indigenous people may not feel that way, but we do," Fazio told the commission.

"You can beat an Aboriginal child. You can shoot an Aboriginal child, and there are no consequences. And I feel that there never will be," she said.

She, too, shared a personal story. Fazio said her son was chased down and beaten by police after he was caught shoplifting at 13. She said she doesn't believe police would have treated her son the same way if he wasn't Indigenous.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, said the justice system's failure to serve Indigenous people equally is not new.

"What it says is something has to be done," Picard told reporters. "It has to stop because we've seen too many examples of the justice system failing our peoples, and that's what needs to change."

Scars remain for years

Daniel Dufresne, the second witness who testified Monday, spoke about an incident that took place in November 2012, just after he turned 18.

Dufresne, born and raised in Kuujjuaq, got into a bar fight and was arrested by two police officers from the Kativik Regional Police Force.

He admitted to being drunk and resisting arrest at first, twisting his body so that the two officers slipped and fell on the snowy ground.

After that he stop resisting and was handcuffed "tight to the bone." He said one of the officers "took it personal" and twisted his left arm behind his back.

Daniel Dufresne was 18 when he was arrested by two police officers behind a bar. (Radio-Canada)

After his arrest, police took him to the hospital because his wrist had swollen up around the handcuff.

A nurse gave him some painkillers, and he spent the night in jail. The next morning, after his release, Dufresne returned to the hospital still complaining of pain.

An X-ray revealed that there was a bone chipped in his elbow.

Dufresne required a cast from wrist to shoulder and said that he still has a scar on his wrist from where the handcuffs were fastened, five years after the incident.

2 weeks of hearings

The commission will sit in Montreal for the next two weeks, following 13 weeks of hearings in Val-d'Or, about 530 kilometres northwest of Montreal, late last year. 

The commission's mandate is to examine ways of improving Indigenous access to public services.

With files from Jaela Bernstien, Matt D'Amours, Justin Hayward and Jonathan Montpetit