Dozens of Aboriginal women pick up phone to complain about Quebec police abuse

In the month since Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux invited Aboriginal women to call a new toll-free line if they'd been assaulted by police, 44 have called to report incidents.

First Nations paralegal service logged 44 calls since police abuse hotline was set up in April

Bianca Moushoun is among the aboriginal women in Val d'Or, Que. who have filed formal complaints against Quebec police officers who she said gave her beer and traded sex acts for money and cocaine. (Radio-Canada)

It's been just a month since Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux invited Aboriginal women across Quebec to call a new toll-free line if they'd been assaulted by police.

In that short time, 44 women have reached out. 

Coiteux said the new line was an alternative to calling the Montreal police force, which is in charge of investigating allegations against eight Sûreté du Québec officers that surfaced last fall in a Radio-Canada Enquête report.

40 per cent ready to press charges

​Calls to the new hotline are being directed to an existing paralegal counselling service for aboriginal people – Services parajudiciaires autochtones du Québec.
'We won’t sit around with our arms crossed,' said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux about abuse allegations from Aboriginal women. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"We were not expecting that kind of result," said Jean Jolicoeur, the vice-president of the paralegal service.

"Within a month, we had 44 women that reached out to us and explained their case."

He said it only made sense to offer women an alternative to calling the Montreal police force.

"You have to realize it was extremely difficult for them to call police, to make a claim against another police."

Jolicoeur said most of the women are not ready to press charges at this time.

"Forty per cent" are, he said.

No more code of silence

Jean Jolicoeur,vice-president of the First Nations paralegal service operating the hotline, says 40 per cent of those who've called are ready to press charges against police. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC news)

Patricia Bouchard, a community worker at the Sexual Assault Prevention Centre in Val d'Or, says it's "appalling" the number is so high.

"We knew there was an issue, but we never knew how big it was," said Bouchard.

Bouchard said allegations of sexual assault stay hidden all too often.

"It means to us the silence has been broken, that there is no more omertà (code of silence) about allegations like that."

Bouchard also congratulated the province for hiring the First Nations paralegal services to set up an alternative.

"I'm glad a second line was offered to these women," said Bouchard. "So they can feel free to talk to whomever they want to because it's such a difficult thing to break the silence."

The province's contract with the paralegal services agency is for two years.

Montreal police also have a hotline, but the force was unable to tell CBC News how many Aboriginal people had laid complaints using that service.

First Nations paralegal services hotline number: 1-888-844-2094
Montreal police hotline:  1-844-615-3118