Montreal·Updated

Main prosecutors quit Viens Commission on Quebec's treatment of Indigenous people

Christian Leblanc and Marie-Josée Barry-Gosselin served as chief counsel and assistant chief counsel of the Viens Commission, respectively. Their resignations go into effect Sept. 7.

Christian Leblanc and Marie-Josée Barry-Gosselin's resignations go into effect Sept. 7

Christian Leblanc, pictured here, and Marie-Josée Barry-Gosselin will officially leave their positions Sept. 7. (Marc-Antoine Mageau/Radio-Canada)

The two main prosecutors for the commission looking into the treatment of Indigenous people by Quebec public services have resigned from their posts.

Christian Leblanc and Marie-Josée Barry-Gosselin served as chief counsel and assistant chief counsel of the Viens Commission, respectively. 

The inquiry was set up in 2016 in response to allegations that police were mistreating Indigenous women in Val-d'Or, about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

It is travelling around the province and is currently holding hearings in Quebec City, gathering testimony from Indigenous people about how they are treated by police and other public servants.

A Laval University professor whose work was cited when Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced the commission was stunned to hear about the resignations.

"I hope that these deeply troubling resignations at this stage of the investigation will not undermine the pace or quality of the work," said Fannie Lafontaine in a statement to CBC News.

She said that Quebec's Indigenous population has already waited long enough.

Among their duties, Leblanc and Barry-Gosselin prepared witnesses to testify at the hearings before Justice Jacques Viens, which are taking place in various locations across Quebec.

Leblanc has also been the spokesperson for the commission since its launch.

The pair will officially leave their positions tomorrow, Sept. 7, according to a news release put out by the inquiry.

"I'm leaving for personal reasons that I won't comment on," Barry-Gosselin told CBC News.

Marie-Josée Barry-Gosselin, right, told CBC News she is stepping down for personal reasons but didn't comment further. (Viens Commission)

New chief counsel named

Suzanne Arpin, who previously served as counsel for the commission, will assume chief counsel duties on Monday.

Arpin joined the commission in 2017 and "has worked primarily in the areas of youth protection, adoption, youth criminal justice, and health and social services law," the release states.

She will also serve as spokesperson for the inquiry.

Manon Richmond says she doesn't want to jump to conclusions about the reasons behind two high-profile resignations at the Viens Commission. (Catou MacKinnon)

One of the women who testified before the commission said she does not want to jump to conclusions.

"What's important is to take the time and go to the source and have questions through the proper channels," said Manon Richmond, the regional director for the Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association. 

She said she does not want to waste her energy overreacting before she knows the reasons behind the resignations.

Late last month, the Quebec Bar Association announced it was giving Leblanc the title of lawyer emeritus, which recognizes lawyers who "strengthen the image and influence" of the profession.

Having spent several years working with Indigenous communities, he was the first prosecutor to work out of Quebec's Inuit territory of Nunavik when the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions opened an office there.

With files from CBC's Catou MacKinnon