Quebec provincial police have nearly completed a five-month internal investigation into eight officers accused of abuses against indigenous people, and say they will soon send the files to the Crown for possible criminal charges.
The Sûreté du Québec launched a probe into officers at its Val-d'Or detachment in May, after 12 aboriginals – mostly women – came forward with allegations of abuse of power as well as sexual and physical abuse dating between 2002 and 2015, spokeswoman Sergeant Martine Asselin said. All of the officers, including at least one woman, have been questioned and remain on duty, she said. In the coming weeks, the files will be provided to the Crown for potential prosecution.
Several of the aboriginal women gave their accounts to CBC's French service, Radio-Canada, and some went on to file formal complaints. According to the program Enquête, the women alleged a long-standing pattern of officers picking up women, driving them to remote areas and then leaving them there to walk back. Some women alleged physical assault and sexual abuse, with one saying she was paid to perform sex acts – at times in exchange for cocaine.
"We went to a road in the woods and that's where they would ask me to perform fellatio," Bianca Moushoun told the program. The officers, whom she said offered her beer from their trunk, would allegedly pay her $100 for the sex act and $100 in hush money. "They were in uniform, with their guns," she said. "They have the power. They have the badge."
Allegations about aboriginal women being abused and mistreated by police have surfaced across the country over the years. Human Rights Watch released a scathing 2013 report detailing allegations against the RCMP in northern B.C. regarding the abuse of aboriginal women, including rape and an unwarranted attack by a police dog.
These kinds of accusations, indigenous leaders say, feed into the historic mistrust of law enforcement and underscore the need for a national inquiry into Canada's more than 1,181 missing and murdered aboriginal women. Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau said earlier this week his Liberal government would move forward "quickly" with an inquiry.
Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said she was "disgusted" by the Val-d'Or allegations and not entirely surprised; she has heard similar accusations elsewhere, she said. "Until you have an inquiry … to actually expose how our women are treated, this kind of thing won't change," she said.
Police services have been working to rebuild their relationship with the aboriginal community after decades of tension – stemming, in part, from law enforcement's role in forcibly removing indigenous children from their homes and taking them to residential schools, where they were stripped of their culture and abused. Some families of missing or murdered indigenous women continue to express deep mistrust, saying they believe their relative's case was mishandled due to police bias.
"[The Val-d'Or allegations] raise a number of concerns and questions about the system of justice and how it's applied to indigenous people," said Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations' regional chief for Quebec and Labrador.
Sgt. Asselin said investigators from outside Val-d'Or – a city of about 32,000 near several indigenous communities – are handling the police probe, which is being led by the force's professional standards bureau. Quebec's Public Security Minister, Lise Thériault, told the legislature Thursday her office learned of the allegations in May. She said the probe should be considered independent because the investigators are not from Val-d'Or.
"The Sûreté du Québec really wants to reassure the population that we take these allegations very seriously," she said, noting there are no plans for an external or civilian probe.
Most of the files relate to abuse of power, she said, but some allege physical or sexual abuse. She said some of the complainants could not provide precise dates or locations for the alleged incidents, which complicated the investigative process.
With reports from Tu Thanh Ha and The Canadian Press