North

Cree leaders push for inquiry, others want 2nd boycott of Val-d'Or

Saying it is "deeply disturbed" by the Crown's decision not to charge any of the provincial police officers accused of abusing Indigenous women in Val-d'Or, Que., the Cree Nation Government is pushing yet again for a provincial judicial inquiry.

Crown releases full report explaining why no SQ officers accused of abuses in Val d'Or will be charged

A vigil takes place outside the Val-d'Or courthouse Friday as prosecutors explained to media why charges are not being laid against police officers in the town who were accused of abusing Indigenous women. (Jaime Little/CBC)

Saying it is "deeply disturbed" by the Crown's decision not to charge any of the provincial police officers accused of abusing Indigenous women in Val-d'Or, Que., the Cree Nation Government is pushing yet again for a provincial judicial inquiry.

Val-d'Or Mayor Pierre Corbeil, the Quebec Native Women's Association, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash and now the Quebec government's own Status of Women Council are all calling for an independent inquiry.

The Quebec government has repeatedly refused that request.

"What we've seen lately is that the journalists being spied on by the SPVM were very quickly handed a commission," said Melissa Saganash, director of Cree-Quebec Relations for the Cree Nation Government.

"Why is it that for one year we've been asking?"

"The fact that no charges are being laid is a clear indication that there is a layer of the population that is unable to receive an adequate support from the current judicial system. There's a blatant problem."

​Vigil outside courthouse

Others are looking for a more immediate way to show their anger and sadness over the Crown's decision not to lay charges.

Today, at least 200 people gathered outside the Val-d'Or courthouse to sing, dance and light candles in support of Indigenous women while the Crown's news conference took place inside.

Janet Mark, a Cree from Senneterre and co-ordinator of Aboriginal Programs at UQAT, says 'there’s a lot of work to do' on tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of Val-d'Or. (CBC)

Janet Mark, a Cree from Senneterre and co-ordinator of Aboriginal Programs at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT), took part in today's gathering. She provided a one-day training session on Indigenous realities to police directors last winter, but she said that's not nearly enough to combat the stereotypes and prejudice she has observed as a Cree woman in Val-d'Or.

"You have the feeling that everybody's looking at you. You're afraid you'll hear negative comments; you don't want to be in public places," Mark said of the current tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.

"There's a lot of work to do."

No boycott planned

While the Cree Nation Government is not planning to cancel meetings and events in Val-d'Or as it did last fall, many Cree individuals are calling for such a boycott, saying they no longer feel safe in the town and want to take their business elsewhere.

One women's broomball team from Chisasibi has already withdrawn from an upcoming tournament, saying online the players wish "to support our sisters and stand against the crime of Aboriginal women abuse."

But others say the City of Val-d'Or has worked hard to reduce racism and that a boycott would further harm relations between the mainly francophone town and the neighbouring Algonquin and Cree communities.

"We're stuck in a bit of a situation," said John Paul Murdoch, corporate secretary of the Cree Nation Government during a meeting of Cree leaders earlier this week.

"Of all the municipalities, Val-d'Or is the loudest and has come to the defence of the Cree more than any other municipality, and yet our people are demanding boycotting Val-d'Or."

John Paul Murdoch, corporate secretary of the Cree Nation Government, says the push for an inquiry must continue. (CBC)

In 2014, the Cree Sports and Recreation Association estimated that Cree from Quebec's James Bay region spend $266 million a year in Val-d'Or on groceries, gas, hotels during hockey tournaments and other shopping and stopovers on the long trip north.

"Basically what's on the table is, how do we respond?" Murdoch said.

Will issue be forgotten?

"We have to keep pushing for a public inquiry. We have to do everything we can to make sure this issue does not slip off the table."

Elma Moses is also concerned that issues of violence against Indigenous women will be quickly forgotten. She's a professor at Montreal's Concordia University and a member of the Cree Nation of Eastmain.

"The general public is silent. I want to say that this silence hurts us as Indigenous women. And for those people who claim to be feminists, there are no words to describe right now my sorrow, my sadness," said Moses.

"As an Indigenous woman, what it's telling me is that our security is not important to you."

More than 200 people gathered outside the Val-d'Or courthouse to sing, dance and light candles in support of Indigenous women. (Jaime Little/CBC)

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