Non-Indigenous police 'over-criminalized' Cree youth in Quebec, inquiry hears

The newly-appointed director of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force, which serves the Cree communities of Quebec, says more needs to be done to help get Cree, and other Indigenous people, trained to be police officers.

David Bergeron testified that more resources needed to train locals to be police officers

David Bergeron, the head of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force, says that more needs to be done to train Indigenous officers in Quebec's Cree communities. (Commission d’enquête CERP)

The newly-appointed director of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF), which serves the Cree communities of Quebec, says more needs to be done to help get Cree, and other Indigenous people, trained to be police officers.

David Bergeron was the first witness to testify Monday as the provincial inquiry into how Indigenous people are treated in Quebec opened two weeks of hearings in the Cree community of Mistissini.

"It is still extremely difficult to recruit Crees in Eeyou Istchee," said Bergeron, who was appointed to the position as director in March 2018, after a 23-year career with both the EEPF and the Sûreté du Québec.

"Nicolet is unable to provide training in English," said Bergeron, referring to Quebec's only provincial police academy, the École nationale de police du Québec, which offers many of its courses in French. "[It is] limiting our ability to recruit officers."

Recruiting issues contribute to 'over-criminalizing' Cree youth, says officer

The Viens Commission — named after retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens — is overseeing the inquiry. It was set up in December 2016 to look into how Indigenous people are treated by six public services in Quebec, including police and correctional services, legal, health and social services, as well as youth protection.

Bergeron told the commission the difficulty in recruiting Indigenous candidates means hiring non-Indigenous officers, who are unfamiliar with local realities and not properly prepared for policing in an Indigenous context.

"This had a negative consequence of over-criminalizing a segment of our Cree youth," said Bergeron, pointing to statistics showing crime rates going up significantly in the years before the creation of the EEPF in 2011, when there were a high number of non-Indigenous officers serving on community police forces in Cree communities.

"These officers were not using their discretionary powers and assessing other alternatives," said Bergeron.

The Viens Commission will hold 2 weeks of hearings in Mistissini. The hearings began Monday. (Commission d’enquête CERP)

While the situation is improving, there are still close to 35 officers serving in the Cree communities that are non-Indigenous, which is close to one third of the force. He also says the EEPF is working on creating extra training for non-Indigenous recruits, so they have a better understanding of the communities they are serving.

Bergeron also told the commission that he wants the EEPF to focus on community-based policy, a strategy of developing partnerships with members of the community.

"My mission is to focus EEPF on community-based policing," said Bergeron. "It's an approach that has proven successful. We want the EEPF to become contributing partners to each Cree community where it operates."

The Viens Commission was set up after Radio-Canada reported allegations that police in Val-d'Or had mistreated Indigenous women.

Bergeron told the inquiry that overcrowded housing is also having an impact on policing.

"A housing shortage is causing [an] increase in physical abuse, and sexual abuse, as well," said Bergeron, adding police interventions in the Cree communities are frequently linked to conjugal violence.

Bergeron says he is conducting a review of the EEPF services and is planning to submit a list of recommendations to the Viens Commission this fall.

The commission's final report is due in September 2019.