Provincial police union acknowledges tense relations with Indigenous citizens in Val-d'Or

The union representing Sûreté du Québec officers recommends better training programs for recruits who work with Indigenous communities, but it is also criticizing certain methods used by the Viens Commission to document their work.

Union representing Sûreté du Québec officers recommends better training and social programs

The union representing provincial police officers in Quebec expressed concern over some of the testimonies heard during the Viens Commission, considering them to be "unreliable." (Radio-Canada)

The union that represents provincial police officers in Quebec is recommending better training and awareness programs to improve relations between officers and Indigenous people.

However, L'Association des policières et policiers provinciaux du Québec (APPQ) denies its officers were guilty of any  misconduct related to a wave of allegations involving the physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous women that surfaced in the northwestern town of Val-d'Or, Que., in 2015.

The union submitted its observations in a written brief to Quebec's public inquiry into relations between government services and Indigenous people.

Representatives for the APPQ were supposed to testify last Wednesday before retired Justice Jacques Viens, but provided its recommendations in a 39-page document instead.

Among the recommendations are calls for a "substantial increase" in training offered to police officers when it comes to the history of Indigenous peoples, as well as intervention methods to deal with mental health, addiction and homelessness issues.

"Training offered to first responders, including police, for the realities of Indigenous people was overall limited," wrote APPQ lawyer David Coderre.

The association also suggests Indigenous people should be invited to participate in workshops with police, to understand "the realities of police work" and the challenges officers face on a daily basis.

That would perhaps entice more Indigenous youth to sign up and increase Indigenous representation, the APPQ said.

'Contradictory testimony'

The brief, which was made public on the last day of public hearings of the Viens Commission, also takes aim at some of Viens' methods.

The APPQ condemned the inquiry for hearing witness testimonies that "severely lacked credibility" because they were  contradictory or because they were reporting hearsay.

It pointed out the commission publicized cases of alleged mistreatment that had been "fully investigated" by Montreal police and didn't lead to any charges, and asked that Viens "not jump to conclusions."

The APPQ said it was never given the chance to explain why police officers continued to wear red bands on their uniforms, despite calls from Indigenous leaders to remove them. (Émélie Rivard-Boudreau/Radio-Canada)

The union also said it wasn't given the chance to submit its written arguments as to why police officers were wearing controversial red bands on their uniforms, despite repeated calls to have them removed.

"The misunderstanding surrounding the creation of this bracelet inevitably fuelled tensions and contributed to maintaining bad relations," the union wrote.

'Events of Val-d'Or'

The brief refers to dozens of allegations of mistreatment by Indigenous people in 2015 as "the events of Val-d'Or," pointing to the breakdown of grassroots organizations as one of the reasons why police are often called to respond to incidents they are ill-equipped to handle.

Without proper funding for community-based organizations, police are often faced with issues stemming from homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness.

It recommends continuing the community-based police programs that were implemented following the "Val-d'Or events," which have eased tensions within the city, according to the union.

The APPQ called for more funding for social services to provide support to Val-d'Or's Indigenous population. (Radio-Canada)

Viens will sift through a total of 1,188 testimonies, including written briefs, police reports and 277 citizen testimonies, before submitting his recommendations to the provincial government in September 2019.

With files from Catou MacKinnon