Grand Chief denounces the SQ’s handling of Val-d’Or solidarity bracelets

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[note: after this article was printed, the SQ agreed to stop wearing the 144 bracelets ahead of their testimony at the Viens Commission]

A Quebec commission will be reviewing the practice of Sûreté du Québec (SQ) police officers in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region wearing red bands on their uniforms, denounced by many First Nations people as offensive.

The bracelets are symbols of solidarity with the eight officers suspended in 2015 over allegations of abuse of Aboriginal women. They are embossed with the number “144” to denote the station number in Val-d’Or, the SQ detachment where the suspended officers worked.

In an email, Grand Chief Abel Bosum condemned the use of the 144 bracelets and said they would “have negative consequences for the long-term relationship between the SQ and Indigenous people in the region.”

Bosum would prefer to see proactive measures intended to reduce conflict and encourage mutual understanding and respect. “These symbolic displays do the opposite and should be denounced. They serve no useful purpose,” he said.

The Public Inquiry Commission on Relations Between Indigenous Peoples and Certain Public Services in Quebec is led by former Superior Court Judge Jacques Viens, whose judicial district was Abitibi for over 25 years.

Pressure to form the committee came after no charges were laid against police in the Val-d’Or abuse scandal, which alleged SQ officers subjected Indigenous women to violence, cruel behaviour and had paid for sexual favours with money and cocaine.

The issue was brought to public attention in October 2015 by Radio-Canada’s investigative program, Enquête. Their investigation led to the shocking testimonies from Indigenous women that made up their story. Ruperthouse’s case was later upgraded from a missing person to a homicide. After an investigation led by the Montreal police force, none of the officers in Val-d’Or were criminally charged.

SQ police in Abitibi and around the province began wearing the bracelets soon after the accused officers were suspended.

In September, Captain Paul Charbonneau, interim director of discipline and legal services, told the inquiry that SQ officers would not be ordered to remove the symbols of solidarity.

When contacted, the SQ refused to comment on the 144 bands because the issue is currently under investigation. Neither would a spokesperson reveal internal SQ policies concerning uniforms.

Chapter four of the existing Quebec Police Act titled Standards relating to uniforms and equipment states: “Every police officer or special constable must, while performing his or her duties, wear the full uniform and wear or carry all the equipment issued by the employer, without substituting any other element for them.”

The Act goes on to explain that authorization for changes to a uniform could only come from the director of the police force. In the occurrence of any offences to the policy, it is the director’s responsibility to report it to the department of criminal and penal prosecutions.

Inspector Lyle Cox of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF) said their policy specifically states that anything not issued to an officer is not allowed on their uniforms.

Cox said in the past EEPF officers have been asked to remove any items not standard issue such as Canadian flag pins.

“If we see anything out of the ordinary we are required to advise our supervisors,” Cox said. “Our policy is direct. It’s very standard. It’s very clear.”

Bosum called the SQ bracelets backward, especially in the era of the #MeToo movement. He said the lack of action by SQ and the use of the bracelets could make Aboriginal women feel ignored and vulnerable.

“In the absence of a single charge against any SQ officer after 37 women came forward with serious allegations, we began to fear greatly for the security of those Indigenous women,” Bosum said. “The SQ officers displaying the ‘144’ symbol only add to the fear that our women must now feel. These symbolic displays call into question Quebec’s willingness to address systemic racism within its institutions, and calls into question whether Quebec genuinely believes that Indigenous lives matter.”

The inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous peoples will hold hearings at the Val-d’Or Music and Drama Conservatory October 15-26. According to the committee, the 144 bracelets will be discussed when the director general, Martin Prud’homme, of the SQ is scheduled to testify in front of the commission October 26.

Bosum called the situation “shameful” and said it throws doubt on the integrity of the entire SQ. He said he will be following the outcome of the inquiry and if necessary his office would work together with other Indigenous leaders in Quebec to address the issue.


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