More Quebec Indigenous women break their silence about police abuse

As an investigation into alleged physical and sexual abuse of Aboriginal women at the hands of police in Val d'Or expands, more Aboriginal women have come forward with allegations of abuse involving Sûreté du Québec officers in communities across the province.

Women from Maniwaki, Sept-Îles and Schefferville came forward after CBC broke story in October 2015

Lise Jourdain says she was raped by a provincial police officer in Schefferville 25 years ago. (Radio-Canada)

As an investigation into alleged physical and sexual abuse of Aboriginal women at the hands of police in Val d'Or expands, more Aboriginal women have come forward with similar allegations of abuse involving Sûreté du Québec officers in communities across the province. 

The allegations come in the wake of an investigative report from Radio-Canada's Enquête that first aired in October 2015. The show reported allegations that Quebec provincial police officers have physically and sexually abused Aboriginal women in Val-d'Or for decades.

Since the original broadcast, Montreal police were assigned to handle the investigation of eight SQ officers in Val-d'Or, about 520 kilometres northwest of the city. Two of those officers have since been cleared of wrongdoing. Police won't say how many women have reported abuse.

Women in Maniwaki, Sept-Îles and Schefferville have added their voices to those in the original report.

They make allegations of rape, physical abuse and starlight tours. Some also spoke of difficulties they had trying to file complaints.

Kristen Wawatie, originally from Lac Barrière, Que., told Enquête an officer in Val-d'Or sexually assaulted her in August 2012.

"I said, 'No, I don't want you to touch me,'" she said. "It's then that his hands went, they went in my pants. He said to me that he can touch me where he wanted."

Wawatie said she told the officer she would bring him to court.

"He said, 'Who are they going to believe, the police or a drunkard?'"

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux and the province have also responded to the scandal, creating a hotline for women who want to report a complaint against police. They also have the option of speaking with an Aboriginal paralegal group that isn't linked to the police investigation.

Some people familiar with the issue doubt the Montreal police investigation will get very far.

"My first reaction was that they'll all make sure that this'll get smothered, it won't go any further," said retired SQ officer Jean O'Bomsawin.

Marc Alain, former research director at the Quebec Police Institute, said it's "absolutely unbelievable" that after all the attention the Val d'Or scandal received in the media, Sûreté du Québec leader Martin Prud'homme never publicly vowed to tackle the root of the problem.

Isabelle Parent, who worked at the Ministry of Public Security for more than 12 years and whose job it was to inspect police forces across Quebec, said charges are rare in cases where a police force investigates another.

"Many times, when it gets to the level of the prosecutors, they'll say they don't have all the information needed to bring it to court," Parent said. "So, in the end, there are many levels where it can get dropped so it doesn't get followed through."

Since the investigation started, Public Security Minister Coiteux has ordered police training reform and an immediate halt to what are known as starlight tours. Also known in Quebec as a "geographic cure," a starlight tour involves police driving someone who is intoxicated far from town and ditching him or her in the middle of nowhere. The targets are often Aboriginal people.

In the 1990s, the practice was linked to three separate deaths of Aboriginal men near Saskatoon. Their bodies were found frozen by the side of the road on the outskirts of town. Two police officers and a police chief were later fired, and two more officers were sentenced to eight months in prison for unlawful confinement. 

The Quebec provincial police force has refused all interview requests, as have Montreal police as they continue to investigate.

With files from Sarah Leavitt