Quebec will be launching its own inquest into the treatment of the province’s Indigenous people, Premier Philippe Couillard announced on Wednesday afternoon.
The investigation will look into “all forms of violence and discrimination,” and will likely be heavily focused on the relationship between police and First Nation communities — but will not examine allegations in the Val d’Or region which prompted calls for the inquest in the first place.
An October 2015 Radio-Canada investigation detailed accounts from numerous Indigenous women from the Val d’Or region who alleged they had been sexually abused by Sûreté du Québec officers.
In response to the story, nearly 40 other reports of police abuse of power emerged, prompting Indigenous leaders to request a stand-alone investigation on police’s treatment of aboriginal women.
Rather than zero in on the Val d’Or cases, officials said the inquest will study the larger systemic issues at play. “Our mandate isn’t to find who is guilty,” Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée told reporters.
After an investigation led by the Montreal police force, the six police officers accused in the Val d’Or cases were let go without charge due to insufficient proof. They are now suing Radio-Canada for defamation, to the tune of $2.3 million dollars.
Of the 37 other complaints collected from other parts of the province, only two officers, both in Schefferville, QC., were officially charged.
The Association of Quebec Police (APPQ) claims that since the story’s broadcast, the relationship between the force and the First Nation community has become increasingly strained, and that nearly half the Val d’Or area’s officers are now on sick leave.
Earlier this week, APPQ president Pierre Veilleux spoke out against the inquest, warning that further scrutiny could “physically and mentally finish” the officers.
“Our mandate isn’t to find who is guilty.”
A study published earlier this month shows what researchers call a pattern of racial and social profiling in the region. An analysis of all the tickets handed out in Val d’Or between 2012 and 2015 revealed that more than 75 percent of fines were given to Indigenous people. Of those who received 15 tickets or more, 100 percent were Indigenous.
The report also posits that officers are overwhelmed and under-equipped to deal with the region’s specific needs.
Quebec government officials had repeatedly dismissed the need for a provincial investigation, claiming it would double up work already done by the federal government’s inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, which began in August.
However, missing and murdered inquiry executive director Michèle Moreau explained last week that while Val d’Or would “be part of the national narrative,” the federal investigation would not be able to focus on such pointed, local issues.
The provincial commission will be led by retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens.