The head of an association representing Indigenous women in Quebec is asking why people who lodged complaints of police abuse more than three years ago are still waiting to hear if criminal charges will be laid.
“It’s far too long,” said Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women.
Following an explosive Radio-Canada report in 2015 alleging provincial police officers in Val-d’Or, Que., had abused Indigenous women, then-public security minister Martin Coiteux gave the Montreal police service (SPVM) the mandate to investigate all allegations of criminal behaviour by police in their dealings with Indigenous people in the province.
The minister funded a hotline for those who didn’t feel comfortable going directly to police.
Between April 2016 and June 2018, the SPVM looked into 55 complaints against police from across the province brought forward by Indigenous men and women.
‘Second wave’ of allegations
Police and prosecutors referred to those 55 complaints as the “second wave” of allegations — the Val-d’Or allegations against the SQ officers being the first wave.
CBC has reported that 54 of those 55 files were handed over to Quebec’s Director of Penal and Criminal Prosecutions (DPCP), and at least five of those 54 cases have been dismissed.
In January 2019, DPCP spokesperson Jean-Pascal Boucher told CBC the remaining files were still being analyzed.
This week, Boucher told CBC in an email that the results of that analysis won’t be made public until an independent observer reviews the SPVM’s investigative work.
Michel says it’s an “unacceptable” situation to make people wait for so long.
“I sympathize with all the women who are still waiting,” Michel told CBC news in a phone interview.
Repeat of November 2016?
Michel said she is not surprised the results won’t be made public before the release of the Viens Commission report, expected next Monday, because what becomes of all the allegations against police is a “political” question — and there is a federal election campaign underway.
The Viens inquiry, led by retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens, was launched by the former Liberal government in December 2016. Its mandate was to look into discrimination and racism within public services, including health care, youth protection, the correctional system, justice and policing.
The commission wrapped up its hearings last December.
Michel said she fears she’ll have to witness a repeat scenario of what happened in November 2016, 20 months after Indigenous women in Val-d’Or lodged official complaints of police abuse.
Crown prosecutors travelled to Val-d’Or to speak to the complainants in person, to tell them the results of the investigation into more than 20 Sûreté du Québec officers accused of abusive behaviour.
Michel remembers the alleged victims’ tears and disappointment as they spoke about the betrayal they felt when they learned not a single charge would be laid against a Val-d’Or officer fingered in the scandal.
Of the 38 cases that were examined in 2016, only two led to charges being filed against retired police officers who had worked in Schefferville, Que., in the 1980s. One man was found dead in his home months after charges were laid. A second man died last December, two months after pleading guilty to a single count of sexual assault.