As It Happens

Viens report lacks apology from Quebec police for treatment of Indigenous women, says community leader

The Viens report says its time for Quebec to apologize for anti-Indigenous discrimination. But Édith Cloutier says that inquiry was prompted by women complaining about abuse by police — and those women are still living in fear.

Édith Cloutier says police in Val-d'Or, Que., should apologize for their treatment of Indigenous women

Édith Cloutier runs the Native Friendship Centre in Val-d'Or, Quebec. (Catou Mackinnon/CBC)


Jacques Viens says it is time for action.

On Monday, in Val-d'Or, Que., Viens, a retired Superior Court justice, released the findings of his inquiry into Quebec's relationship with its Indigenous residents.

The report described public agencies systemically discriminating against people who they are meant to serve and protect. To begin to rebuild trust, Viens recommended 142 specific actions, beginning with a public apology.

None of this would have taken place if it weren't for the women Édith Cloutier works with in Val-d'Or.

Cloutier runs Val-d'Or's Native Friendship Centre. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Cloutier about the inquiry and the women at her centre who made headlines when they came forward with story after story of abuse at the hands of police.

Here is part of their conversation.

Ms. Cloutier, how are the women you work with in Val-d'Or responding to the findings of Commissioner Viens today?

Actually, we'll be gathering together for supper, like we've been doing for the past years, just to take care of one another and make sure that they're OK, that they're surrounded by their family, by their community.

So I'm actually going to be having them at the Friendship Centre for supper tonight.

Mohawk elder Sedalia Fazio makes her opening statement as Jacques Viens, head of Quebec's Indigenous inquiry, looks on before the start of Monday's proceedings. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

So without trying to predict what they might have to say, what, from your point of view, has this commission done? Will it satisfy them? Does it satisfy you?

To begin with, yeah. We need to commend the work of the commission. I think after all these hearings and listening to hundreds and hundreds of people that have opened up, participation of Indigenous people that told their truth, their story — so, in general, we're satisfied with the outcome.

Of course, the very first call to action will provide the tone to all of this by asking the Quebec government for official apologies for the harm done to Indigenous people ... so we're going to see where this will lead us.

There's another aspect that we find through the report that is a little bit concerning for us. We find that that report seems pretty discreet around policing, SQ (Sûreté du Québec) and what started all of this commission.

We were saying that it's an important and significant gesture that the government apologizes for the prejudice caused by public services practices.

But for us it's another level of reality of apologies from police authorities for aggression and abuse towards Indigenous people, namely Indigenous women.

You're pointing out that when this commission really comes about, it starts after Radio-Canada and its show Enquête did this investigation into the police treatment of Indigenous women, in particular. And only two investigations came out of about 62 complaints about how they're being treated. So what role did that abuse that was revealed in that on Enquête investigation ... play?

Well it's what triggered everything.

It's the taking of a public stand against police abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, on the part of the police authorities towards Indigenous woman of Val-d'Or.

So we're like saying: OK, this is a good report. It raises the issue. It led to the conclusion that there is systemic racism that exists in Quebec.

But on the other hand, what we're seeing is that again, today, we're in 2019, the public statement of those women was in 2015. And still, to this day, those women are still afraid to be confronted with police.

They don't feel any safer than in 2015.

So what we were expecting from this commission was a very clear call for action or a statement around the SQ, acknowledging that as an institution, that they failed Indigenous women.

You mentioned you are going to be having dinner with these women tonight, and they are still feeling this fear; they're still seeing feeling intimidated by the authorities in Val-d'Or. What would you say to them tonight?

Well the most difficult part for us in having this conversation ... is to let them know about the report, but reminding them first that this would not be happening, this historical report from a very important commission, comes from them — and that we've always made sure that they are always aware that if it wasn't for their courage, we wouldn't be here.

But the second part of it is to let them know that this disappointment that we now have in terms of the report itself being very timid, discreet, around what actually triggered the whole thing — and it's the relationship with the policing.

So we want to have a conversation with them to say: Well, how do you feel about this and do you want to speak out about it? Because some of those women have moved on. Some of those women are having a better life for them because they've been working on their healing and everything. And some other women are still struggling.

So you know we're more in a circle of care relationship with our women, with our sisters. So we just want to make them feel comfortable and to make sure that they are very much aware of what's going to be in the news ... for the next few days, but also, what is the future in terms of relations with the Indigenous woman and the government of Quebec.

Written by Kevin Robertson and John McGill. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.