Lack of Indigenous investigators at Quebec's police watchdog makes agency hard to trust, says chief
Quebec's BEI is investigating deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick
Quebec's police watchdog, which is investigating the deaths of two First Nations people shot and killed by police in New Brunswick, has no Indigenous representation in its investigative unit that examines cases where civilians are seriously injured or killed in police operations.
The bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) is currently investigating the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, who were killed in separate incidents over a span of eight days.
Sylvie Boutin, a spokesperson for the organization, said the BEI is working on recruiting First Nations and Inuit investigators for greater representation.
"When the next call for candidates is issued, BEI will make sure that the publishing of this job offer will be widely spread throughout communities across Quebec," she said in an email to CBC News.
Last year, the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls's Quebec supplementary report called on the province to impose the appointment of Indigenous representatives in all institutions responsible for training police officers and monitoring police work, including at the BEI.
When asked about the BEI's efforts to implement recommendations from the inquiry, Boutin said the BEI hired a liaison officer for Indigenous communities and that staff is trained in the realities of First Nations and Inuit.
Naiomi Metallic, an assistant professor and chancellor's chair in Aboriginal law and policy at Dalhousie University, was an expert panellist for the Council of Canadian Academies' 2019 report Toward Peace, Harmony, and Well-Being: Policing in Indigenous Communities.
She said police oversight is important, but expressed concern with the lack of Indigenous representation and questioned if the agency does a good job and is receptive to Indigenous peoples.
"There's just no trust. These types of institutions, unless they're really making efforts to make it seem like they're trying to build relationships, it's really difficult to place our trust in them," said Metallic.
She said there's a "long history of how police forces in Canada have essentially been a tool for colonization. Circumstances over the last 40-50 years haven't really shifted that, from various clashes with police to things like Indigenous people dying at the hands of various institutions, happening over and over again."
No race-based data on death/injury investigations
Since the BEI was established four years ago, it has investigated 167 cases where a civilian was seriously injured or died during a police intervention, including the deaths of Moore and Levi.
But the agency doesn't collect data on how many of those cases involve Indigenous people.
"There are no discussions here at BEI to collect race-based data in independent investigations. A civilian is a civilian," said Boutin.
"The fact that we put in place an independent investigation is not related to the race."
It does collect race-based data, however, when it comes to investigations into allegations of criminal offences of a sexual nature committed by a police officer. And since September 2018, the agency's mandate has expanded to include investigations of criminal allegations against a police officer in all cases where the victim or the complainant is First Nations or Inuit.
A total of 87 out of 133 of those investigations to date involve Indigenous people. Sixty-one are still under investigation, while five charges have been laid against officers to date. The BEI did not say if any of the five cases where charges were laid involve Indigenous complainants, in order to protect the victims' identity.
Ghislain Picard, regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec-Labrador, said he wants to know how many Indigenous people come under the agency's watch as an independent body while respecting the will of any individual not wanting to be a part of data collection.
"It's very sensitive," said Picard.
"People that would be subject to an investigation or people who have made a complaint don't necessary want to be identified."
First Nations leaders across the country have called for a full independent investigation into the deaths of Moore and Levi, while some in New Brunswick want an Indigenous-led team to head the investigation. For Picard, the lack of trust in the BEI is warranted.
"There's been no real record of its effectiveness," he said.
"The BEI might be seen as body of former police officers or former investigators, there's always that little plus that will add to the mistrust... Families might want a body comprised of Indigenous peoples, and to me, that's certainly something that is more than legitimate."
Like Metallic, Picard expressed concern over the lack of Indigenous representation in its investigative unit.
"One of the questions that remains, how far will the BEI go to reflect the diversity within its own ranks? It's still very much an open question and we haven't been able to get a clear response," he said.
"If the BEI is to gain trust from Indigenous peoples, then it has to respect that reality."
At the end of its investigations, the BEI will submit its reports to the New Brunswick Public Prosecution Service which will determine whether to lay criminal charges.
with files from CBC New Brunswick, CBC Montreal