Inquiry into Quebec's treatment of Indigenous people visits Mistissini

The inquiry on how Quebec treats Indigenous people will hold a public information meeting Tuesday evening in the James Bay community of Mistissini.

At least 8 Cree communities have invited the inquiry to hold public sessions in the coming months

Members of the Indigenous relations team include Sharon Hunter, left, Bérénice Mollen-Dupuis, Terrence Duff, Manon Richmond, Janet Mark, and Gisèle Bacon (Missing are Chantal Gervais and Stella Bearskin). 'Their task is to be our voice and our ears on the land of their respective nations. They will travel in the community and talk to people,' says Christian Leblanc, prosecutor in chief with the Viens Commission. (Submitted by Commission d’enquête CERP)

The inquiry on how Quebec treats Indigenous people will hold a public information meeting Tuesday evening in the James Bay community of Mistissini.

The meeting is part of a push to encourage Indigenous people across the province to share their experiences before the commission wraps up later this year.

"The challenge for 2018 is to cover the distance," said Christian Leblanc, prosecutor in chief with the Viens Commission, which is named after retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens who is leading the inquiry.  

"We are very dedicated to cover the whole province, to go everywhere and meet people. We are now in the process of going further covering the Innu, the Naskapi, the Inuit and the Cree."

In 2017, the commission visited every Algonquin nation and two of the three Mohawk communities, according to Leblanc. In total there have been 13 weeks of public audiences in Val d'Or and 81 community visits, with 62 of them public information sessions. It has heard from more than 130 witnesses to date.

Leblanc says the goal now is to get in touch with regular citizens.

"We need to go there," said Leblanc. "We cannot just say, 'We have a website.' We need to go to the people and talk to them. It's a public inquiry for regular citizens."

The Commission d’enquête CERP's Sharon Hunter in Mistissini. (Commission d’enquête CERP)

'Our voice and our ears on the land'

The two-year inquiry in Quebec was launched in December 2016. 

It focused on how Indigenous communities across the province are treated by various public services, including the police, justice and correctional services, youth protection and the healthcare system. It was set up in the aftermath of allegations of mistreatment made by several Indigenous women against police officers in Val d'Or.

Several community liaison officers were hired by the commission last November, including three for the Cree communities: Stella Bearskin, Manon Richmond and Terrence Duff. Liaison officers are also being hired for Nunavik with public information sessions planned for Kuujjuaq at the end of February.

"Their task is to be our voice and our ears on the land of their respective nations. They will travel in the community and talk to people," Leblanc said. Information about how to engage with the commission is also being translated into Cree and Inuktitut.

Leblanc says at least eight Cree communities have invited a team from the commission to hold public information sessions in the months ahead. The Mistissini information session will be held at the Family Resource Centre Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. Another information session is planned for Chisasibi on Feb. 5 to 8.

Investigation agents are able to take statements during the public information sessions.

The commission itself is also hitting the road for hold public hearings in Montreal from Feb. 12 to 19 and again from March 12 to 19.

The final report is due Nov. 30.