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Val-d'Or police allegations: First Nations chiefs outline demands

Quebec’s First Nations leaders came out of an all-day meeting in Val-d’Or, Que., Tuesday afternoon with a list of four demands for the government to resolve tensions and address the violence that aboriginal women allegedly suffered at the hands of provincial police.

Aboriginal leaders want to meet with Quebec premier, demand independent investigation into abuse allegations

Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Quebec and Labrador and Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of the Quebec Grand Council of the Crees, respond to Val d'Or police allegations. 1:56

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  • Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced he will meet with aboriginal leaders on Nov. 4.

Quebec's First Nations leaders came out of an all-day meeting in Val-d'Or, Que., Tuesday afternoon with a list of four demands for the government to resolve tensions and address the violence that aboriginal women allegedly suffered at the hands of provincial police.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that today's meeting was at times, very emotional, in all ways possible — including a lot of anger," said Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Quebec and Labrador.

This region is in crisis — very clearly in crisis.- Ghislain Picard, AFNQL Chief

​Picard was one of 30 First Nations chiefs and delegates who was at the meeting in the small town, situated about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

The meeting comes five days after Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête aired a shocking report in which aboriginal women in Val-d'Or alleged they were sexually assaulted by provincial police officers.

Women told 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.

Four demands

Picard outlined four demands to come out of the meeting.

"The first priority is to ensure there is continuous support for our women, their families and their communities ... We don't have the necessary resources to come to the aid of women who have already come forward and the others who will come forward in the coming weeks," Picard said.

He also called out Martin Prud'homme, the director-general of the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force, who said earlier in the day that there's no crisis in Val d'Or, despite reports of dozens of local officers calling in sick over the weekend after their colleagues were suspended. He said he expects officers to gradually return to work in the coming days.

"Contrary to what he's saying, this region is in crisis — very clearly in crisis — and we need to address that," Picard said.

The aboriginal leaders' third demand is to have the investigation transferred from the Montreal police department (SPVM) to an independent body.

At first, the case was being handled by the SQ, which meant the force was investigating its own officers. Although the SPVM is now in charge, the First Nations chiefs say that's not good enough.

"Our confidence has been broken. Be it the SQ or the SPVM or the RCMP ... we ask really that there be an independent investigation," Picard said, adding that Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard must sit down with aboriginal leaders across Quebec.

"We can't go higher than the Premier … He has no choice. He has to take on this responsibility and meet with aboriginal leaders. There is a crisis in Val d'Or."

The group's final demand was addressed to prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau, who, Picard said, should launch a national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women.

"We don't want that the commission be established in two years, or three years or four years ... The prime minister-designate has to indicate and confirm his intention within 30 days of taking office next Nov. 4."

Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of the Quebec Grand Council of the Crees, called the matter a "national issue" that needs to be dealt with.

"I do not have the luxury to be silent on this issue," he said. "I am a father. I have three daughters. I am a grandfather. I have three granddaughters. Our people matter. Our women matter. First Nations count."

More officers in Val-d'Or

Earlier Tuesday, Prud'homme said he was committed to adding more officers and social workers in Val-d'Or.

Sûreté du Québec's director-general Martin Prud'homme says the force needs to respond to the needs of the community. (CBC)
He said that although there is no crisis in the town per se, he wants to create a response team better trained to deal with the community's vulnerable population.

Currently, 56 provincial police officers are posted in the community.

"We need to respond to the needs in [the community]," Prud'homme told a news conference in Val-d'Or.

"The clientele here is vulnerable and needs help." 

The police force is also planning to install cameras in patrol cars based in the town.

After the Enquête report aired, eight officers already under investigation for abuse of power and assault were suspended or put on administrative duties.

​At a news conference Tuesday, Prud'homme said none of those eight officers are 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, Prud'homme said.

Montreal police union calls for oversight

The union representing Montreal police officers asked for an independent observer to be named to oversee the Montreal police department's investigation into the allegations.

Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur said in a news release that an observer is needed to rule out any perception of bias when police officers investigate officers from another force.

"There is a problem with the notion of impartiality," said Francoeur. "This context is just too sensitive to allow any perceptions that our members are partial."

Couillard agreed and said Tuesday afternoon he was granting that request.

"We made the decision to appoint someone to be an observer in this investigation so that each party — the people making the allegations as well as the people targeted by the allegations — each party is fully assured by the independent process and that people's basic rights are respected," the premier said.

The Quebec government has announced the creation of an independent body to investigate incidents involving the police. It is set to begin operation in April 2016. 

"My message to the aboriginal communities in Quebec and in Canada — if they want to address this issue where it should be, at the deepest level, Quebec will be at their side," Couillard said.

For its part, the Opposition Parti Québécois again criticized the Couillard government for its handling of the file. PQ House leader Bernard Drainville called on the province's Public Safety Minister Lise Thériault to resign. 

"We have no more confidence in her," he said.

Drainville said "if it hadn't been for journalists, the scope of the accusations wouldn't have been known."

Vigil in Montreal

One First Nations Montrealer organized a vigil for Thursday evening at Place des Arts to put pressure on politicians to call an independent inquiry.

"This issue in Val-d'Or is an urgent one. Every day that goes by, these women don't get justice," said Melissa Mollen Dupuis.

"The wound is going to get bigger and bigger every day that these women don't get their justice."

With files from The Canadian Press

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