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Quebec indigenous leaders urge inquiry into relations with police

Ghislain Picard, Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, speaks to media on April 16, 2008, in Quebec City.

JACQUES BOISSINOT/The Canadian Press

Quebec indigenous leaders are renewing calls for a public inquiry into the relationship between police and First Nations communities, even as the province continues to refuse.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, told a news conference Monday that it was unacceptable that the province has refused to hold an independent probe.

The calls came after last week's decision by Crown officials not to charge any of the six provincial police officers accused of abusing indigenous women in the northern Quebec town of Val d'Or.

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Read more: Indigenous women angered that no charges laid against Val-d'Or officers

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Quebec's Public Security Department had mandated the Montreal police force to investigate allegations of physical and sexual abuse by provincial police in Val d'Or, following an award-winning investigative report by Radio-Canada's investigative program "Enquete" in 2015.

It later expanded that investigation to include other complaints from other parts of Quebec.

Montreal police looked at 38 cases of police abuse allegations, including alleged rape, sexual assault, harassment and so-called "starlight tours," where police would allegedly take people against their will and drive them far outside town and abandon them.

The Crown confirmed Friday two people had been charged and the decision not to lay charges in other cases meant that the burden of proof wasn't met.

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An independent observer appointed by the government suggested the existence of discrimination and systemic racism in Quebec's provincial police force toward indigenous people.

Picard accused Quebec of hiding behind the federal National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

"The reaction of (Quebec premier Philippe) Couillard government is to sweep this all into the federal camp," Picard said. "What happened to the sacrosanct provincial jurisdiction of Quebec, especially in matters of policing?"

The province said Friday it would create a "working roundtable" on the quality of relations between police forces and indigenous people.

That's not enough, said Matthew Coon Come, the grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, adding a federal inquiry wouldn't give the issue the attention it needs.

"The prosecutors admission of the limitations of the justice system was equally disturbing," Coon Come said. "What has happened and will continue to happen to these women is not isolated to Val d'Or — this is a province-wide crisis needing the attention of the province."

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Coon Come questioned why the provincial government was so quick to act when journalists complained about spying or when a Quebec City woman accused a member of the provincial legislature of sexual assault.

"The double-standard could not be more striking," said Coon Come. "Yet the Government of Quebec continues to resist and ignore the overwhelming evidence of the need for an provincial judicial inquiry — a revision of how justice is administered to and for indigenous populations."

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