Quebec Public Security Minister Lise Thériault, who has been front-and-centre during the Val-d'Or aboriginal abuse crisis, is taking a leave of absence for health reasons.

"(Thériault) has health problems," said Thériault's spokeswoman, Émilie Simard. "Health issues are between her and her doctor. We wish her the best for a quick recovery."

Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau will step in for Thériault during her leave, the government announced Thursday.

Thériault has been on the defensive ever since news broke that several native women in the town of Val-d'Or, about 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal, accused provincial police officers of physical and sexual abuse going back several years.

The Opposition has called for the minister's resignation over what they call her mismanagement of the investigation into the abuse allegations. 

Last week, in a rare public showing of emotion, Thériault cried during a news conference in which she was questioned about the affair.

Several women had told Radio-Canada's investigative journalism program Enquête that police 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.

After the Enquête report aired last week, eight officers already under investigation for abuse of power and assault were suspended or put on administrative duties. None of those officers are currently under investigation for sex-related acts.

He said police are investigating two other officers on sex-related allegations, however. One of those dates back to the 1980s and the officer has since died, while the officer in the other case has not been identified.

Last week the Sûreté du Québec handed the case over to the Montreal police department as per provincial protocol, so that police officers with the SQ are not investigating members of their own force.

Evening vigil

The news of Thériault's temporary leave of absence came a few hours before a vigil in support of indigenous women took place in downtown Montreal.

At 6 p.m., hundreds of people gathered outside Place des Arts in response to the shocking allegations of abuse by police officers against native women in Val-d'Or.

With files from the Canadian Press