Independent observer in Val-d'Or abuse scandal says police investigation 'fair, impartial'
Fannie Lafontaine appointed by Quebec to oversee probe into allegations of abuse by police officers
The independent observer tasked with overseeing an investigation into the alleged abuse of Indigenous women in Val-d'Or, Que., by provincial police officers concluded the process was "fair and impartial" in a report made public Wednesday.
Fannie Lafontaine, a human rights lawyer and the Canada Research Chair on International Criminal Justice and Human Rights at Université Laval, was appointed last November by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to act as a civilian auditor of the investigation.
Montreal police led the investigation, which brought out concerns that it would not be a fair process since it would be one police force investigating another.
- No charges in Val-d'Or abuse scandal will breed further mistrust, Indigenous leaders say
- Enquête investigation into Val d'Or now available in English
"The Montreal police did not try to protect their colleagues from the Sûreté du Québec," said Lafontaine in an interview with CBC Quebec's afternoon radio show Breakaway.
"They did explore every possible means of investigation to look for the truth. Even in cases, for instance, where the victim did not remember the exact date or the face of the police officer who had allegedly committed something."
31 victims come forward
In the report, Lafontaine writes that Montreal police opened 38 files after meeting with and interviewing 31 victims.
Of those victims, 24 are women. She added three of the victims were not Indigenous.
Lafontaine also breaks down the allegations made:
- 15 files involve allegations of a sexual nature.
- 9 files involve allegations of officers driving victims out of town and abandoning them in non-residential areas.
- 14 files involve allegations of assault or allegations relating to disciplinary acts, some of which do not concern police officers.
On Monday, Montreal police said it handed over 37 files to Crown prosecutors for review. Lafontaine said the remaining file is being pushed back into a second phase of the investigation. The Montreal police's investigation only pertains to complaints in Val-d'Or filed before April 4, 2016.
Calls for a consultation
In her conclusion, Lafontaine writes that criminal investigations are limited and do not address the deeper issues facing Indigenous people in Quebec.
"The objective of a criminal investigation is to look whether someone has committed a crime and to identify the perpetrator," she said in her interview on Breakaway.
"It doesn't look at systemic or collective issues, and clearly in this case there is a systemic issue to look at."
- No charges against Quebec provincial police in Val-d'Or abuse scandal
- Quebec hands over Val d'Or abuse investigation to federal MMIW inquiry
Lafontaine said there should be an immediate consultation between Indigenous leaders and the province to come up with measures that could be complementary to the police investigation.
Some leaders, like Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, have already called for an independent commission examining relations between police and First Nations.
Geoffrey Kelley, Minister of Native Affairs, said instead of a provincial commission, the government will be giving full powers to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which will be able to look into police relations.
No charges expected for officers
On Tuesday, sources told CBC's French-language service Radio-Canada that Crown prosecutors will not charge six Quebec provincial police officers alleged to have committed assaults and other abuses.
The officers have been on paid suspension since the investigation began in October 2015, after a report by Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête.
The Crown has scheduled a news conference Friday to make its findings public.