Quebec provincial police officers agree to take off controversial red bands

Provincial police officers have agreed to remove a symbol of solidarity implemented in support for their colleagues in Val-d'Or who were suspended over allegations of mistreatment by Indigenous women.

Symbol worn by SQ officers had been viewed as ‘intimidation and provocation’ by Indigenous leaders

Some Sûreté du Québec officers wore the red "144" band on their vests during a Native Friendship Centre event in Val-d'Or on Jun. 22, 2017, National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Émélie Rivard-Boudreau/Radio-Canada)

Sûreté du Québec officers will remove a controversial symbol they were wearing on their uniform, which several Indigenous leaders described as being "divisive" and "intimidating," Radio-Canada has learned.

Officers started wearing the red bands on their vests ​with the number 144 —​ the number of the Val-d'Or detachment — in a show of support for their colleagues who were suspended following an investigation into the mistreatment of Indigenous women in 2015.

The investigation into allegations of mistreatment did not lead to any criminal charges against the eight officers, who then filed grievances against their employer.

According to Radio-Canada's sources, both parties reached an out-of-court agreement in the past week.

Act of provocation

Guy Lapointe, spokesperson for the SQ, said the agreement will remain confidential, but did include a provision requiring all officers to take off the red bands.

"We're happy to see this finally come to an end," Lapointe said.

Over the past few months, several Indigenous leaders have called on the SQ to intervene and demand their employees remove the so-called solidarity bands.

Ghislain Picard, the Quebec regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called the initiative "very offensive. It's really provocation."

Two Sûreté du Québec officers in Val-d'Or wearing red solidarity bands on their uniforms, less than a week after president of Quebec's Indigenous Inquiry called for an end to the practice because they represent "intimidation and provocation" for Indigenous people. (Émélie Rivard-Boudreau/Radio-Canada)

Michèle Audette, a commissioner with the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), said she heard first-hand how the red bands worsened the already strained relations between aboriginal people and police.

"They don't want to call 911, or they don't want to get involved with the police because the trust is not there anymore," said Audette in September.

'Step in the right direction'

Adrienne Jérôme is the chief of Lac-Simon, an Anishnabe community 40 kilometres east of Val-d'Or.

During her testimony at Quebec's inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous people, she described how the trust between residents and police had been broken.

Justice Jacques Viens, who is presiding over the commission, has expressed several times his desire that the bands be removed.

Seeing that happen, Jérôme said, will help rebuild connections between community and police.

Twelve women, who allege they were mistreated by provincial police offers, signed a statement in 2016 which said they felt “betrayed, humiliated” after learning that the Crown is not expected to move forward with any charges against the officers under investigation. (Radio-Canada )

"We saw it as confrontation, even if they said it meant something else, for us it was a symbol of police brutality," Jérôme said. "But now, it is proof there is a process of reconciliation that is beginning, and also of respect with police."

The executive director of the Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre, Édith Cloutier, said the red bands were getting in the way of efforts to improve relations.

"This is a decision that will open up that door, and is a step in the right direction," she said.

Based on a report from Radio-Canada's Jean-Marc Belzile