Indigenous leaders disappointed Legault failed to attend 'nation-to-nation' meeting

Representatives of Indigenous communities in Quebec spent Thursday meeting members of the provincial government, but some were disappointed Premier François Legault didn't show up.

Thursday's day-long meeting was the first since the release of the Viens report last month

Ghislain Picard, the regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec, speaks with Isabelle Charest, minister responsible for the status of women, at Thursday's meeting. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Representatives of Indigenous communities in Quebec spent Thursday meeting members of the provincial government, but some were disappointed Premier François Legault didn't show up.

"I was hoping that today we would see again Monsieur le premier ministre, that he would come to this level, to the circle and say, 'Here are my commitments about those apologies that I made,'" said Michèle Audette, a commissioner on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Audette said she hopes Legault will attend the next meeting in December, to offer "a strong commitment that he wants to see some change."

Ghislain Picard, the Quebec regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, echoed this sentiment.

He said Legault's absence showed "a lack of understanding" of what constitutes a "nation-to-nation" meeting.

The meeting was held in a hotel conference room in Quebec City. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Picard said overall, the meeting was "constructive and positive," and he's glad to find government representatives, including Indigenous Affairs Minister Sylvie D'Amours, were open to meeting again before the end of the year.

Need for 'major structural changes': Picard

This is the first major meeting between Indigenous leaders and the Quebec government since the release of the Viens report last month.

In his report, retired Quebec Superior Court justice Jacques Viens concluded that Indigenous people in Quebec are victims of "systemic discrimination" when it comes to accessing public services.

"There needs to be major structural changes in the way that government operates or manages its services when it comes to Indigenous peoples," Picard said.

"Ultimately, what we are trying to achieve is to set the course for a true political relationship."

The report — the result of nine months of testimony about decades of abuse, mistreatment and neglect — laid out 142 recommendations for the province regarding policing, social services, corrections, justice, youth protection, and health and social services.

The first recommendation was that the government issue an apology, which Legault delivered in the National Assembly on Oct. 2.

Picard said he wants to see the government adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, something Legault had promised to do during last year's election campaign.

Picard said that would be a strong indication that the province takes seriously its commitment to improving relations with Indigenous Peoples.

MNA Denis Lamothe. a former police officer with the Sûreté du Québec, is the parliamentary assistant to the minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

SQ must do better: CAQ MNA

The Viens inquiry was launched in December 2016 by the former Liberal government, under pressure to act in the wake of a Radio-Canada investigation into allegations of police misconduct against Indigenous women in Val-d'Or.

Denis Lamothe was a Sûreté du Québec officer for 30 years before being elected as the Coalition Avenir Québec MNA for Ungava last year. He now serves as the parliamentary assistant to the minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs.

Lamothe said it's clear the SQ "failed" when it comes to working with Indigenous communities, and things need to change.

"For me, what is very important is it's time for them to adjust themselves and build relationships," he said. "What happened in Val-d'Or shouldn't have happened."

With files from Cathy Senay