Violence against Indigenous women, girls in Quebec often neglected, national inquiry says

In an effort to give "particular attention" to the violence Indigenous women and girls face in Quebec, the national inquiry into the issue has released a supplementary report that looks specifically at the province.

175-page supplement aims to give 'particular attention' to Quebec experience

Adèle-Patricia Vachon-Bellefleur, 17, died after sustaining unexplained injuries in 2011. A supplementary report by the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls said stories like hers informed their call for special attention to be paid to the realities of Indigenous women in Quebec.

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has released a separate report about violence in Quebec, saying it is a problem that is "often overlooked."

The three-year national inquiry published its final report on Monday. The report, which includes 231 recommendations, calls the violence endured by thousands of Indigenous women and girls in recent decades a "Canadian genocide."

The inquiry also produced a 175-page supplement accompanying its main report, to give "particular attention" to the situation in Quebec. It points out the political and socio-historical context in Quebec is different from the rest of the country and examines how that context has affected Indigenous women and girls over the years.

National studies on violence against Indigenous women don't reveal much about what is going on in Quebec, the report says.

"The reality of violence against Indigenous women in Quebec is often overlooked. Because of language and cultural barriers, these works rarely take into account the realities of women in Quebec," it says.

Michèle Audette, commissioner for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, hugs families who gave testimonies in Mani-Utenam, Que., in 2017. The national inquiry released a companion report today into the situation in Quebec. (CBC)

Nakuset, the executive director of The Native Women's Shelter Of Montreal, agreed that the language barrier is a huge issue.

"They sent us all to English residential schools. So we come back and they're like, 'You're not allowed to speak English, you have to speak French,'" she said.

"So if I don't speak French, and I need to go to the police to say I've been sexually assaulted, and they refuse to speak to me in English, that's a problem," she said.

The report criticizes the lack of statistics on missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people in Quebec, saying the available data is often incomplete.

It makes 21 recommendations, including:

  • Create an independent mechanism to monitor whether the inquiry's recommendations are being followed.
  • Create a crisis team for cases of missing Indigenous women and girls.
  • Make more resources available to victims.
  • Incorporate mandatory curriculum training in schools (including universities) on socio-cultural realities of Indigenous people.
  • Compel police to compile statistics on the disappearances of Indigenous people and crimes against them.
  • Appoint Indigenous representatives to Quebec's police school and the Independent Investigations Bureau (BEI) to train all active police officers and police cadets on the socio-cultural realities of Indigenous peoples.
  • Establish a commission of inquiry into the cases of children taken from Indigenous families in Quebec.

Premier François Legault said Monday his government is working to change what he called an "unacceptable situation."
"I think it's clear we haven't done enough to protect those women, over many years," he said.

Dozens of testimonials shared

During two days of community hearings in Quebec, 140 testimonies were collected — some public, some private and some in the form of public statements. The report includes the stories some of those women told. 

Gilberte Vachon, an Innu woman from Pessamit, Que., spoke of her daughter Adèle-Patricia Vachon-Bellefleur, who was 17 when she died in 2011. Adèlous, as her mother called her, went out with friends one night and never came home.

In the middle of the night, Vachon received a phone call that her daughter was being resuscitated. Adèlous was declared dead in hospital. Her nose had been bleeding, and she had bruises and cuts all over her body, but by the next day, her mother testified, police still hadn't set up a security perimeter in the area.

Adèle-Patricia Vachon-Bellefleur's sister, Andrée, and her mother, Gilberte Vachon, testified in 2017 that they'd lost trust in police because of the way the death of their beloved Adèlus had been investigated. (CBC)

Vachon and her daughter Andrée still do not know how Adèlus died, but they are convinced that her death is directly related to the injuries she suffered that night.

"They no longer trust the police, and they have no faith in the justice system," the report says.

Quebec-specific issues

The report says in Quebec, "public discourse has focused largely on issues of identity and the integration of people referred to as 'visible minorities' or 'cultural communities,' in a series of initiatives from which Indigenous peoples were essentially excluded," a practice that has relegated Indigenous people to "invisible minorities."

It points out that religious orders ran hospitals, schools and child welfare organizations in Quebec, which affected how colonization was experienced by some in the province.

Another barrier has to do with language — many Indigenous people in Quebec use French as a first or second language, which makes it harder for women in Quebec to communicate and connect with women outside the province.

"In particular, this can prevent the sharing of culturally adapted practices and resources for preventing violence and ensuring well-being in the communities," the report says.

Families from Pakua Shipu, near the Quebec-Labrador border, offered a heart-shaped embroidery to the inquiry's commissioners when they held hearings in Mani-Utenam, Que., in December 2017. The socks and mittens represent the eight children who disappeared from the Innu community in the 1970s. (Julia Page/CBC)

With files from CBC's Homerun