Police officer charged following Val-d'Or investigation pleads guilty
Jean-Luc Vollant will be sentenced for sexual assault, committed in Schefferville, Que. in the 1980s
A retired Quebec police officer has pleaded guilty to charges laid against him, in the only criminal case to go forward following explosive allegations of police misconduct in Val-d'Or, Que., in 2015.
Jean-Luc Vollant was one of two officers charged following an investigation by the province's Crown prosecutors, prompted by a Radio-Canada investigation into alleged misconduct against Indigenous women.
Vollant pleaded guilty to sexual assault on Oct. 5. at the Sept-Îles courthouse, after being charged in 2016 for rape, indecent assault and sexual assault, for incidents which occurred during his time working with the local police force in Schefferville, Que. in the 1980s.
He will be back in court on Dec. 4 for sentencing on one count of sexual assault.
The two other charges of rape and indecent assault were automatically dropped, due to a provision in the Criminal Code which states a person cannot be convicted twice for the same crime.
'Tip of the iceberg'
Viviane Michel, the president of Native Women Quebec, said she hopes Vollant's admission of guilt will persuade women how important it is to report sexual assaults, even years after they've occurred.
"We want to underline the courage of the victims who first spoke out," said Michele, who nonetheless expressed disappointment that of the 37 initial complaints handed to investigators, only two met the standard for prosecution.
In 2016, when the Crown outlined its findings, prosecutors stressed that the outcome "did not mean the alleged events did not happen," but rather that there were not sufficient elements of proof to bring the case before a judge.
Michele said she hopes the province's inquiry into relations with Indigenous people will "shine a light on the system" and lead to better programs to accompany victims, including access to legal aid.
The director of the Association of Native Friendship Centres, Tanya Sirois, said the recent conversations surrounding sexual assault have shown how difficult it can be for victims to come forward and testify.
"The burden of proof is on their shoulders," Sirois said.
She also commended the women in Val-d'Or for their courage.
Sirois said by coming forward, they transformed Quebec's political landscape and Quebecers' understanding of issues affecting Indigenous people.
"It was just the tip of the iceberg, and beneath that tip, we discovered multiple layers," Sirois said.
By pleading guilty, Vollant avoids going to trial, something she said some victims may find comforting, as it means they won't have to testify in court.
However, Sirois said, some victims may feel robbed of their chance to speak publicly and feel that justice has been served.
"The system isn't designed for victims of sexual assault, but it's still important to file a complaint, to make sure these people can't continue doing this," she said.
The other officer charged with sexual assault and assault with a weapon, Alain Juneau, worked with the Sûreté du Québec in Schefferville, in the 1990s.
Juneau committed suicide in early 2017, two months after the Crown laid charges against him.
Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) has launched a confidential info line for victims of sexual violence who are considering filing a complaint with police.
The line is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-877-547-3727.