Indigenous·Opinion

Reaction to Val-d'Or allegations outlines Canada's racial divide

After allegations surfaced of Sûreté du Québec officers in Val-d’Or abusing a number of First Nations women over the course of a decade, Joe Public reacted in different ways, which essentially outlined the racial divide in this country.

Take Lise Thériault tears 'with a grain of salt,' says Mohawk journalist Steve Bonspiel

A woman holds up a sign in support of aboriginal women at a march on Saturday in Val-d'Or, QC. (Sandra Ataman/Radio-Canada)

After allegations surfaced of Sûreté du Québec officers in Val-d'Or abusing a number of First Nations women over the course of a decade, Joe Public reacted in different ways, which essentially outlined the racial divide in this country.

On the Onkwehón:we (Indigenous Peoples) side, of course, there was much anger. How could this happen? How could the police, once again, be taking advantage of Indigenous Peoples with no one saying a word, for so long?

Most Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawks) simply don't trust the SQ, so it wasn't earth-shattering news in Kahnawake, Quebec. The dark scars from the 1990 Oka Crisis still burn bright in many people and we have barely trusted police, let alone the SQ, ever since.

The angry feelings and terse words soon took to social media, of course. But it was after Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador regional chief Ghislain Picard placed the blame for what happened in Val-d'Or on Quebec premier Phillippe Couillard, giving him 24 hours to meet, things started climbing up the urgency scale, and fast.

Demonstrates racial divide

On the other side some Canadians were questioning the allegations, posting "144" -- referring to the detachment in Val-d'Or — as their Facebook photo, while blaming public security minister Lise Thériault for "jumping the gun" and judging too quickly, after she appeared visibly upset on TV.

(CBC)
Take Thériault's tears with a grain of salt. They may or may not have been crocodile tears, but the truth is those tears and that news conference only became a reality thanks to Radio-Canada's investigative work and the release of its dark and damning findings.

Thériault is the same person, keep in mind, who knew about the allegations back in May yet did nothing about it.

To make matters worse, Montreal police will be leading the investigation — kind of like asking your misbehaving child to make sure his younger, even more troubled brother behaves, while you sit on the couch and watch your soaps, eating chips.

In the skeptical non-indigenous public spectrum, a crisis erupts alleging abuse that continued for 10 years, of citizens made to do horrific things to officers on duty for money, and the first thing they do is accuse the victims of lying.

The racial divide is clearly demonstrated in the outright racially motivated attacks that come after stories like this are published. 

Read the comments on news websites and see what the trolls say.  

Indigenous Peoples are simply pushed aside, our very real concerns, our gripes, our rights and unique history, and our communities whittled down to nothing, a sentiment that comes from a deep ignorance and, deep down, guilt.

So where do we go from here?

How do we foster a society that treats our people, especially our women, as equals?

It starts with education. A lot more needs to be done in every school across the country to teach non-indigenous people about First Nations, Inuit and Métis in the 21st century.

And we have to act as ambassadors for our communities, by learning our language, culture and history – and then passing that on, with kindness.

People of all walks of life have to start treating each other with more respect, as human beings who are just as fragile, egotistical, needy, proud, intelligent and hard-working as the next person, regardless of their skin colour.

Sindy Ruperthouse is the Algonquin woman whose disappearance set off a chain of events that led to the discovery that many aboriginal women in Val-d'Or had faced alleged abuse at the hands of provincial police officers. (CBC)
Justin Trudeau has promised much as the new Canadian prime minister, but let's see if he can reverse the colonial damage Stephen Harper has deepened in the last 10 years, and finally treat us as equals who have protected rights that existed long before Canada became a country.

More lurid details of what happened in northern Quebec will come out in the next few months, and we'll get a better picture. And these horrific alleged incidents will prove to be the downfall of how the SQ is run up there. Is there any other choice?

Until then we are left with the only thing that makes sense at this point: a national inquiry into why our women go missing and are murdered at alarming rates, one that includes finding out why authorities, far too often, turn a blind eye to it all and continue to get away with it.

A version of this article was published in The Eastern Door. Republished with permission.

About the Author

Steve Bonspiel

Editor, The Eastern Door

Steve Bonspiel is the editor/publisher of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory’s award-winning weekly newspaper The Eastern Door. He has won numerous provincial and national awards for his articles and editorials. Bonspiel is Mohawk, from Kanesatake, currently based in Kahnawake, Que.