Indigenous Val-d'Or residents face racial profiling, systemic discrimination, study suggests

The study by l'Université de Montréal and University of Ottawa researchers found that of the 3,087 tickets Sûreté du Québec officers handed out over a roughly three-year period, 76 per cent of them were issued to Indigenous people.

Police don't have tools to grapple with increased homelessness, says researcher

'Police are not trained to respond to social needs,' said University of Ottawa researcher Marie-Eve Sylvestre, whose study shows three-quarters of tickets handed out for municipal bylaw infractions in Val-d'Or, Que., over a 38-month period were issued to Indigenous people. (Radio-Canada)

A report released today suggests that police in Val-d'Or are racially profiling Indigenous people.

Researchers Céline Bellot from l'Université de Montréal and Marie-Eve Sylvestre from the University of Ottawa conducted the study.

They looked at how law enforcement and homelessness intersect in the city 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Here's what they found:

  • Sûreté du Québec officers handed out 3,087 tickets between Jan. 1 2012 and March 1, 2015.
  • 2,353, or 76 per cent of them, were issued to Indigenous people.
  • 67 people received more than 10 tickets in that period.
  • 63 of those people were Indigenous, as was everyone who received more than 15 tickets.

The majority of the tickets, which were municipal bylaw infractions, were given out for offences such as public intoxication, drinking and doing drugs in public and uttering threats.

According to the 2011 census, Indigenous people make up less than 10 per cent of the population of the community.

The study comes amid high tension between the Indigenous population and police in the community, following the revelation of allegations of abuse by SQ officers against Indigenous women in the area.

Crown prosecutors did not lay charges against the six officers targeted by the abuse allegations.

Law poor tool for social problems

Sylvestre said police are being forced to use the law to deal with social problems. 

"We believe the police are not trained to respond to social needs. It's not their mandate; they don't have the necessary skills to do so," she said.

The report shows in some cases, people are arrested so they can obtain health and social services or have a roof over their heads.

The homeless population has steadily increased in the last decade due to increasing poverty, a housing shortage and health issues, the study says.

The researchers found there are "several" indicators of social and racial profiling and systemic discrimination against homeless people in Val-d'Or, and especially Indigenous people, including a lack of social support, difficulty accessing services, and the use of SQ officers as the first or sole responder to social problems.

The study found police officers receive little support and training on how to interact with homeless people and the Indigenous population. (Radio-Canada)

"In certain cases, the police and homeless people entertain cordial relationships, but generally speaking, we observed misunderstanding and distrust on each side," it said.

And, the study says, in most cases, police officers don't receive any specific training on the history and realties of Quebec First Nations and Inuit prior to working in Val-d'Or.

But they also don't get any support or training to deal with people living on the streets.

"Basically we found out that given the lack or the inadequacy of most of the health and social services in the city to respond to the very high and complex cycle of social needs of homeless people, the police were often the first if not the only responders that were called to intervene and deal with the issues in public spaces," said Sylvestre.

The researchers are calling for more social workers, better training for police, and a moratorium on jailing people for unpaid fines.

"The police shouldn't be the first and only responders to issues related to homelessness and public spaces and in particular to public drinking and public intoxication," said Sylvestre.

with files from Catou MacKinnon