Quebec provincial police officers agree to take off controversial red bands
Symbol worn by SQ officers had been viewed as ‘intimidation and provocation’ by Indigenous leaders
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."
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.
"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