Montreal

Quebec has 'failed in its duty to you,' Premier François Legault tells Indigenous Peoples

Premier François Legault has apologized for how Quebec has treated Indigenous Peoples, following through on the first of 142 recommendations in a damning report that concluded they are subject to "systemic discrimination."

Legault delivers historic apology at province's National Assembly

Indigenous leaders applaud after Quebec's premier apologized at the National Assembly on Wednesday, Oct. 2. But that was only a first step, Indigenous leaders say. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Premier François Legault has apologized for how Quebec has treated Indigenous Peoples, following the release earlier this week of a damning report that concluded they are subject to "systemic discrimination." 

"I offer Quebec's First Nations and Inuit people the most sincere apology from the entire state of Quebec," Legault said Wednesday at the province's National Assembly.

"The state of Quebec has failed in its duty to you."

His speech, made entirely in French, was followed by a lengthy round of applause from elected members and a group of Indigenous leaders watching from the gallery. Opposition politicians also offered words of apology.

The apology was the first of 142 recommendations made in the report issued Monday by retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens.

Legault said he would study all the recommendations and work with Indigenous groups to improve the situation.

Quebec Premier François Legault, right, delivered the apology Wednesday, two days after the damning Viens report was made public. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

In the report, Viens said it is "impossible to deny" Indigenous Peoples are victims of "systemic discrimination" in accessing public services.

He said improvements are needed throughout the public service, including in policing, social services, corrections, justice, youth protection and mental health services, as well as to the school curriculum to properly reflect the history of First Nations and Inuit in the province.

Viens's inquiry was launched in 2016 by the then Liberal government, following a Radio-Canada investigation into allegations of police misconduct against Indigenous women in Val-d'Or, a city 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

'We'll see how far it'll go'

Indigenous leaders and advocates welcomed the apology from the premier, but they also stressed the importance of making concrete changes to government services. 

"We've been ready for many, many years to work with the government. And now, this announcement today, we'll see how far it'll go," said Verna Polson, grand chief of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council.

Polson, an English speaker, said she was disappointed Legault didn't deliver a portion of his apology in English.

Indigenous leaders say the apology was just the beginning. 1:33

She called on the premier to ensure the women who came forward in Val-d'Or aren't overlooked, as well.

"The women, they need their justice. We're always going to talk about it. We're always going to push for it."

Huron-Wendat Grand Chief Konrad Sioui pointed out there have been many reports in the past, with similar recommendations, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

Huron-Wendat Grand Chief Konrad Sioui said the Viens report represents an end to an age of innocence for Quebec. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

But he said the Quebec report represents an end to an "age of innocence" in the province, where misdeeds were often attributed to English Canada.

'''We're not like those English guys you know.' This is the kind of message we've heard for a long, long time," he said.

"Today, there's a real effort from the premier and the government itself to excuse themselves and ask pardon. Now it's up to us to say, how are we going to implement the new chapter."

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler is a journalist with CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

With files from Cathy Senay

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