Montreal

Complaints of police mistreatment of Indigenous people led to no disciplinary action

After preliminary investigations by the Sûreté du Québec's internal affairs, only two officers were questioned to find out if they used physical force or threats during an incident in 2016. 

Out of 63 reported incidents, only 2 officers were questioned about use of force or threats

Indigenous rights activist Donna Larivière is shocked none of the Sûreté du Québec officers targeted in complaints from First Nations and Inuit have come close to being disciplined. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

None of the Quebec provincial police officers targeted by complaints of mistreatment of Indigenous people have faced any disciplinary measures, CBC News has learned. 

An access to information request reveals Montreal police investigated an unspecified number of Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers in 63 reported incidents involving alleged physical, sexual and verbal abuse of First Nations people.

The person who handles complaints for the provincial police ruled 33 of those incidents should be analyzed further by SQ internal affairs to see if there was a problem with the way the officers behaved.

After preliminary investigations by internal affairs, only two officers were questioned to find out if they used physical force or threats during an incident in 2016. 

They both denied doing anything wrong, stating their actions that day were "without reproach."

According to a section of the Police Act, Sûreté du Québec members can face disciplinary measures for committing any one of the 61 breaches in their code of conduct. The disciplinary process only begins after all criminal charges have been investigated and dismissed. 

The breaches include, for example, being impolite or disrespectful, searching a person of the opposite sex or misusing a patrol car.

Some SQ officers started wearing red '144' bands on their vests —​ the number of the Val-d'Or detachment — to show support for their colleagues who were suspended following an investigation into the mistreatment of Indigenous women in 2015. Indigenous leaders said the bands were a form of 'intimidation and provocation.' (Émélie Rivard-Boudreau/Radio-Canada)

That's the type of behaviour a group of women in Val-d'Or described in the fall of 2015 when they spoke on Radio-Canada's investigative program, Enquête.

Some of the women also alleged some officers sexually assaulted them or paid them for sex.

Donna Larivière remembers she and her husband burst into tears and had to stop watching the program because they were so upset.

They both recognized some of the women.

"My God, where is the justice for these women that nobody gets arrested and no one is disciplined," said Larivière, an Anishinaabe woman and lifelong Indigenous rights activist.

One year after the women in Val-d'Or went public, Crown prosecutors found the information they gave too unreliable to press charges.

Larivière said she knows most officers do their job well without discrimination. 

But she also wonders if there was a cover-up inside the provincial police force.

"I know Val-d'Or, I know there is a lot of discrimination, a lot of racism because you can feel the tension when I come here," said Larivière, who grew up partly in Val-d'Or but has lived in Quebec City for 30 years.

'Nothing to learn'

The documents obtained by CBC show that only one reported incident moved beyond the initial internal affairs phase. Two officers received a letter informing them of a complaint about their behaviour while they handed out a ticket in 2016.

All the information that could identify the officers or the complainant has been removed, so it's not possible to say where it happened, or on what day that year.

Both officers told internal affairs there was nothing extraordinary about their intervention and they had "nothing to learn" from the incident because they had done nothing wrong.

Larivière said the lack of disciplinary action will be one more blow to the women who went public four years ago.

"They'll be disappointed at the system and trust in police will be broken," said Larivière. 

Provincial police are not commenting on anything having to do with allegations against officers until the Viens Commission report is made public on Monday.

Larivière hopes Jacques Viens, the retired judge who presided over the public inquiry into the treatment of First Nations and Inuit, will call for better education of police.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catou MacKinnon started working for CBC in New Brunswick as a reporter and then as the Maritime Noon correspondent. Since 2004, she's been reporting on stories from all over the province of Quebec.

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