One year after indigenous women in Val-d'Or, Que., came forward with explosive allegations of police abuse that rocked the local community and captured the country's attention, prosecutors say they are now on the verge of revealing whether any provincial police officers will face criminal charges.
Quebec's public prosecution service said Monday it has reviewed a total of 37 files that were turned over by Montreal police, which spent several months investigating the allegations against Sûreté du Québec officers. The prosecutions office will announce Friday which of those files, if any, will result in charges.
Spokesman Jean-Pascal Boucher said the office will be meeting with alleged victims throughout the week to inform them about the outcome of their cases. He declined to say how many officers are potentially implicated, or how many individuals made complaints.
"Out of respect for the people involved, we want to make sure to get in touch with them to explain it to them before making our decision public," Mr. Boucher said.
The much-anticipated development in the investigation comes roughly two months after the federal government launched a national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women – an independent probe that was spurred, in part, by an unprecedented 2014 RCMP report that found there were 1,181 police-reported homicides and long-term disappearances involving indigenous women across the country between 1980 and 2012.
Indigenous leaders said they will be watching Friday's announcement closely, calling 37 a disturbing number of files.
"If the result is even one charge, then that's one case too many," said Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nation's regional chief for Quebec. "There clearly needs to be a look at the whole relationship between police forces and our peoples. We won't back down on that issue."
Several indigenous women gave their accounts last fall to 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 into town. Some women alleged physical and sexual assault, with one saying she was paid to perform sex acts, sometimes in exchange for cocaine.
The allegations reverberated throughout the indigenous community and beyond. Eight Sûreté du Québec officers were suspended. The Quebec government put Montreal police in charge of the investigation. The police service and the province both set up hotlines for people to call with complaints. And then, just last month, 41 officers filed a $2.3-million defamation suit against Radio-Canada.
The indigenous complainants in the northwestern Quebec mining town are not alone in their alleged grievances. The RCMP's civilian watchdog is expected to release its findings this fall regarding allegations of excessive use of force, sexual assault and mishandling of missing-person reports when dealing with indigenous people in northern British Columbia. And in the coming months, Ontario's civilian police watchdog recently confirmed its intention to conduct a systemic review of the Thunder Bay Police Service's relationship with the indigenous community amid long-standing tension.
A team of three Quebec prosecutors has been scrutinizing the Val-d'Or allegations since June, undertaking an "exhaustive" review of the evidence in each case, according to the prosecutions office. Intent on managing public expectations, the office cautioned in a statement earlier this year that prosecutors must satisfy a "very demanding" burden of proof required in all criminal cases.
One indigenous leader said failure to bring forward at least some criminal charges could dissuade women from stepping forward with complaints in the future. Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women Inc., has spoken to women in Val-d'Or who allege they were victims at the hands of police. "We hear their rage," Ms. Michel said. "We'll be worried if they're not believed."