Montreal's Indigenous homeless women face roadblocks in quest for justice
SPVM Aboriginal liaison officer says the force is open to adapting to fit Indigenous community's needs
On any given week, Jessica Quijano estimates she hears two or three complaints of sexual assault from her clients — predominantly homeless Indigenous women staying in Montreal's west end.
But she says helping victims navigate the legal system with their complaints ranges from challenging to impossible.
It's a system that's rigged against them, she says.
Place Versailles is a world away
There are many reasons victims choose not to report their sexual assault, Quijano says. However, there's one barrier that stands out in preventing many from ultimately having their day in court.
When someone makes a sexual assault complaint in Montreal, they're required to travel to the Montreal police service's headquarters for specialized investigations in Place Versailles, in the city's east end.
The square has served as an informal meeting area for the city's Inuit population since the 1980s.
Now condo towers are rising around it, and new storefronts clad in trendy, millennial-pink signage are popping up, but even as the neighbourhood becomes hip, many of the city's Inuit consider the area their home.
Travelling east from Atwater Metro to Radisson, in the city's east end, presents a barrier for victims, says Quijano.
"I work with people who need to survive, and taking a few hours out of their day to go to Place Versailles means that they're not going to be able to make money during that time," she said. "Just because you're living on the street, you do need to work to survive on the street."
Many of her clients struggle with addictions, she said, and they must be sober to provide their recorded testimony, adding another layer to the challenge.
In addition, Place Versailles is located in a predominantly-Francophone part of the city. Quijano said many of her clients speak Inuktitut and then English as a second language, making communication in French another barrier they face.
SPVM open to changes
The SPVM says it's open to making changes in how sexual violence complaints are investigated, including possibly changing protocol so victims don't have to go to the station at Place Versailles.
The message I want to send ... is that if you're a victim, we will be there for you.- SPVM Const. Carlo DeAngelis , Aboriginal liason officer
In fact, Const. Carlo DeAngelis, the SPVM's Aboriginal liason officer, says there's a meeting next week to discuss that possibility.
DeAngelis said when a victim makes a police report, officers will go to meet the victim wherever they may be, even if it's in a shelter or on a street corner.
He said the priority is to make sure the person is out of imminent danger, and police will take victims to the hospital to do a rape kit, if required.
The portion of the investigation that must be done at Place Versailles happens a little later, and DeAngelis says it's imperative that victims aren't deterred from filing the initial report.