Matthew Coon Come is Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee).
On behalf of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, I must express our indignation at the double standard evident in the Quebec government's refusal to address the allegations of abuse of indigenous women in Val-d'Or and elsewhere in Quebec.
More than a year ago, indigenous women in Val-d'Or came forward with allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of police officers from the Sûreté du Québec. Their example led indigenous women elsewhere in Quebec to denounce the abuse they claim they had suffered.
The provincial government at first tried to minimize these events. It mandated the SQ to investigate its own officers. Months later, when Radio-Canada broke the story, the government changed gears and tasked the Montreal police with the investigation.
Two weeks ago, more than a year after the issue came to light, the Director of Prosecutions reported that none of the 38 complaints against SQ officers would be prosecuted. Correction: Two charges were laid, but in another region, one against an SQ officer who retired 10 years ago, and the other against an indigenous police officer.
Last week, the SQ announced the establishment of a second police station in Val-d'Or, to be staffed by indigenous and non-indigenous officers – at first blush, a step in the right direction. However, the SQ is trying to recruit the indigenous officers from already understaffed and underfunded First Nation police forces in Quebec. This just shifts the problem, at the expense, once again, of First Nations.
For more than a year, First Nations in Quebec have been calling for an independent provincial inquiry able to compel witnesses to expose the systemic racism underlying police discrimination against indigenous women. The provincial government has resisted this call at every turn.
In August, 10 months after the story broke, the government took action, of sorts. It handed over its responsibility to look into relations between police forces in the province and indigenous women to the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. The federal government assumes all costs of the inquiry and the final report is due by Nov. 1, 2018, after the next provincial election.
This is not enough. The national inquiry is vitally important, but it is a pan-Canadian exercise. Its mandate covers every province and territory, and a wide range of issues. With the greatest goodwill, the national inquiry will not have the time or resources needed to examine alleged police abuse of indigenous women in Quebec thoroughly.
This looks like a case of the French term "noyer le poisson" or "drowning the fish": submerge the alleged police abuse among so many other issues at the national inquiry that it is forgotten.
The Quebec government says an independent provincial inquiry will take too long, cost too much and only lead to more frustration for indigenous women. None of these objections holds water.
More than a year ago, we proposed a provincial inquiry to be modelled on the Stonechild Inquiry in Saskatchewan of 2004-05, which took only 18 months from its establishment until its report. Had the Quebec government acted on our proposal, the inquiry would have been close to issuing its report by now.
Cost was no object when the provincial government recently established an inquiry into police surveillance of journalists, just days after the story surfaced. Nor was cost an object when it announced in October a $200-million strategic plan to combat sexual violence against women, specifically on campuses. How can one justify this appalling double standard? It sends a clear message that indigenous women and indigenous people count less than other Quebeckers.
The most astonishing objection heard from the government is that indigenous people themselves don't want an independent provincial inquiry. Who are these people? Indigenous women and First Nations of Quebec have been calling for an independent provincial inquiry for more than a year. Has the government not been listening? Since when does the government speak for First Nations? Why is the government resisting the independent inquiry so strongly?
The Cree Nation stands with the AFNQL, AFN, QNWA, City of Val-d'Or, Parti Québécois, Québec Solidaire, trade unions and NGOs in calling for an independent provincial inquiry to look into relations between indigenous people, the police and the justice system. Only this will fix a system that is broken.
Quebec must demonstrate its commitment to equal justice for all and address systemic racism underlying police discrimination by launching an independent provincial inquiry without further delay. The Cree Nation is prepared to work with the Government of Quebec to do the right thing.