The alleged abuse of aboriginal women by Quebec provincial police in Val-d'Or will be investigated as part of a forthcoming federal inquiry.
Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of Indigenous Affairs, said Thursday that the reported cases of abuse in the northwestern Quebec town will be included in the mandate of the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
- Exclusive: Quebec police accused of abusing aboriginal women
- Aboriginal women's claims of police sex abuse under investigation
- Quebec to look at violence faced by aboriginal women
Holding the federal inquiry was a central campaign promise of the federal Liberals and had initially been slated to focus on 1,200 existing cases going back some 30 years.
But Bennett is now indicating the scope of the inquiry will be broadened.
"We see Val-d'Or as a symptom of a much a larger problem, and we want to attack the roots of this larger problem," Bennett said while in Quebec City as part of a cross-country series of preliminary consultations ahead of the inquiry.
The Liberal government is using the preliminary consultations to gauge the boundaries of the eventual inquiry.
Last year, Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête uncovered stories of sexual violence toward aboriginal women in Val-d'Or, which is located close to several Algonquin communities.
Several women told Enquête about a pattern of abuse involving provincial police over a period of at least two decades.
They said 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.
Bennett described the relations between police and aboriginal women in Val-d'Or as part of a "systematic problem" that exists across the country. She pointed to deficiencies in police training as one of the sources of the problem.
Quebec denies problem is systematic
Quebec's public security minister, meanwhile, downplayed the severity of the issues surrounding the police's treatment of aboriginals.
"I wouldn't be ready to say that there is a systematic situation where the police are racist," Moreau said Thursday.
"There are people who have bad relations. But there are individuals in the police force who are extremely open to other cultures, as there are in society as a whole."
A Montreal police investigation into the allegations in Val-d'Or is ongoing. Moreau said he had no timeline as to when the investigation would conclude.