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Alleged victim of spousal abuse says Cree police services lacking

A Cree woman from Quebec says Cree police and the justice system let her down in August 2018 when she turned to them after deciding to leave the father of her two children.

Nikki Shecapio says the Eeyou Eenou Police Force wouldn't accept her complaint about ex-partner

Nikki Shecapio says she made multiple attempts to get the Eeyou Eenou Police Force to take her complaint against her ex-partner in August of 2018. (submitted by Nikki Shecapio )

A Cree woman from Quebec says it took her several attempts and almost a month before she felt protected against an allegedly violent ex-partner.

Nikki Shecapio of Mistissini, Que., says she feels the Cree police and justice system let her down last August when she turned to them after leaving the father of her two children.

The 22-year-old Shecapio was seven months pregnant with her second child, when she first contacted the Mistissini detachment of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force in early August looking to file a complaint against her ex.

"I told them about what happened and I needed to get out and I needed help," said Shecapio, adding she tried three times but police in Mistissini wouldn't take her statement.

I felt scared.- Nikki Shecapio of Mistissini, Que.

They told her that she needed to get a lawyer and file for a restraining order, she said.

"I showed [police] my arm and I had bruises on my arm and they saw them." said Shecapio.

"I felt scared. I didn't know who to trust."

Shecapio said she also went to the local Cree justice building and was told it would take two weeks before she could get any help toward a restraining order.

Woman goes to provincial police

That's when she drove to a nearby non-Cree community of Chibougamau, found herself a lawyer and went into a detachment of the Sûreté du Québec and told them her story.

Shecapio's lawyer, Marie-Ève Bartkowiak, says police let Shecapio down. 'The police officer has to do their job,' says Bartkowiak. (Jean Girard)

According to Shecapio and her lawyer, Marie-Ève Bartkowiak, provincial police then contacted Mistissini police and Shecapio was finally able to file a complaint against her former partner. That was at the end of August, more than three weeks after her first attempt.

"Normally police will open a file and take her version right away, put it in writing and get her to sign it," said Bartkowiak.

An investigation would then begin and the suspect would be questioned, she added.

"The police officer has to do their job." said Bartkowiak.

Bartkowiak said Shecapio was also let down by the Chibougamau court system, where she went to file for a restraining order when her attempts in Mistissini were unsuccessful.

She was given forms to fill out in French — a language Shecapio doesn't understand.

The police officer has to do their job.- Marie-Ève Bartkowiak, Shecapio's lawyer

Bartkowiak returned to the Chibougamau courthouse with Shecapio and they were given the English version of the form to fill out.

Shecapio's ex-partner was arrested on Aug. 30. He was released under various conditions, including staying away from Shecapio.

He's been charged with assault causing bodily harm and faces a maximum 10 years in prison.

His next court appearance is on Jan. 31 in Mistissini.

Victim support available in Cree communities

The Eeyou Eenou Police Force said it isn't ready to comment on the case.

Donald Nicholls, the director of justice and correctional services for the Cree Nation Government, said he couldn't speak about Shecapio's case specifically, but said someone in her position should have been directed to victim support services known as the Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC) available in Cree communities. There are three offices that cover all of the communities, said Nicholls.

"Our staff is trained specifically to link them to all the services they need for support," said Nicholls, adding that it can include getting a placement in one of the Cree Nation's two women's shelters.

He said Shecapio's experience shows more work needs to be done to let people and front-line workers know about the victim services available. 

Policing in small communities a challenge

According to Josiane Loiselle-Boudreau, justice and public safety coordinator of Quebec Native Women, the proximity of members of the same community can be an obstacle for women to come forward.

In Canada, Indigenous people are at greater risk of being victims of spousal violence than non-Indigenous people, said Loiselle-Boudreau.

Quebec Native Women told Radio-Canada that it would like to see an exchange of police officers between communities.

"It could alleviate the problems related to proximity in small communities," said Loiselle-Boudreau.

Nikki Shecapio said she wanted to share her experience because she knows other Cree women are too scared to reach out for help.

"I know other girls were in the same situation as me, but most of them, they're scared to say something or do something about it," she said. 

"I decided to speak up because I think it's best for all women in Cree nation, especially the kids."

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to reflect that Donald Nicholls was not speaking to this case specifically.
    Jan 18, 2019 10:59 AM CT

With files from Radio-Canada