Montreal police scrap training plan created by Indigenous groups in favour of its own

The head of Montreal's Native Women's Shelter says the police service is breaking its historic agreement with Indigenous Montrealers by abruptly scrapping a sensitivity training plan developed by a network of local Aboriginal groups.

Police say the new program, developed by Huron-Wendat consultant, better suits its 'operational needs'

Portrait of a woman with dark hair and a beaded choker.
Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women's Shelter, said she was not consulted when police implemented a new Indigenous issues training program. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

The head of Native Women's Shelter of Montreal says the Montreal police service is breaking a historic agreement by abruptly scrapping a sensitivity training plan created by a network of local Aboriginal groups. 

There was optimism among Indigenous Montrealers when, in June 2015, the SPVM agreed to have all its officers undergo four hours of training about Indigenous history and culture. 

The Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network spent hours and thousands of dollars developing the training program, working in good faith that it would be adopted by police.

Nakuset, the executive director of Native Women's Shelter, said the group worked for two years at fine-tuning the program, developing a 31-page manual and making the workshop more interactive, at the request of police.

She only learned the SPVM had replaced the program when she was told by CBC News. 

"It hasn't been easy, working with the police," she said in an interview.

"The agreement says we are going to be working together, and they have not shown any effort of working with the community or the network."

Ironically, Nakuset suggested at the time of the landmark agreement's announcement that the program could become a blueprint for other cities, pointing out most programs elsewhere "were put together by the police" themselves.

But police ultimately went in precisely that direction, hiring consultant Pierre Picard, a member of the Huron-Wendat Nation who has experience training law enforcement.

'Blanket exercise' made officers laugh

The local Aboriginal network's program was used to train police twice — the last time in February, when some officers laughed during a session.

In the session, officers were playing the "blanket exercise," in which they were to stand on a blanket representing Canada.

Facilitators then read a brief history of Canada, including the process of colonization, outbreaks of smallpox, the establishment of residential schools and other historic injustices endured by Indigenous people.

The exercise is supposed to instill empathy in participants, but instead, some officers broke into giggles.

Nakuset remembers trying to hush the officers, asking them to focus on the learning material.
It was shortly after that the program was abandoned.
SPVM Aboriginal liason officer Const. Carlo DeAngelis, right, seen here working in Cabot Square with his partner, Const. Patricia Drouin, says officers 'responded better' to the training offered by independent consultant Pierre Picard. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Officers 'responded better' to replacement workshop

Carlo DeAngelis, the SPVM's Indigenous liaison officer, said the new training is four hours long, as outlined in the 2015 agreement, and covers history and some of the challenges facing Indigenous people in Montreal.

CBC has not seen an outline of Picard's training plan to compare its content to that developed by the Montreal network of Indigenous groups.

The new training, DeAngelis said, is better suited to the SPVM's "operational needs," and officers "responded better to this training."

"It's all police officers; it's patrollers, investigators. They're very happy to have it, and this is a positive step," he said.

Roughly 150 police officers take part in each session. Four sessions have already been held, and there are plans to continue through 2020, he said.

In addition, DeAngelis said, since 2015, new recruits have been given a 45-minute information session about Indigenous history.

DeAngelis said who conducts the training isn't the key point — it's getting the message across.

"What's important is we work together for one objective, especially for individuals that are vulnerable in the community to make sure they got the services," he said.

Further fractures in fragile alliance

Nakuset said she and those who worked with her on the project would have at least liked to have been consulted on the content of the new training.

She said the SPVM's abandonment of the training that local groups put so much effort into further fractures the already-fragile relationship between police and Indigenous people in Montreal.

She points to over-zealous policing, over-ticketing and the stigmatizing of Indigenous people living on the streets.

Nakuset said the training her group developed was specific to Montreal, with a special focus on the challenges facing Inuit in the city.


Kate McKenna is a journalist with CBC News based in Montreal.