Quebec’s Indigenous inquiry reveals tensions with the Montreal police

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Mohawk Elder Sedalia Fazio led an opening ceremony and prayer recognizing her nation’s territory to begin the 14th week of the Public Inquiry Commission on Relations Between Indigenous Peoples and Certain Public Services, also known as the Viens Commission, at Montreal’s Palais des congrès.

Seated in a circle before retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens, representatives of the Mohawk Nation, the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Strategy Network, project directors and community members gave testimonials throughout the week focusing primarily on police services and the justice sector.

“It’s a culture that needs overhauling,” Vicky Baldo, co-chair of the Network, testified February 14, referring to Montreal police attitudes towards Indigenous peoples and cultures.

This statement comes after 18 months of work on police cultural sensitivity exercises requiring the omission of words like “colonialism” and “history” was dropped from the curriculum by the SPVM over a year ago. This was done despite an agreement between the Network and the SPVM signed in June 2015.

“I signed the agreement in good faith, and it has been such an incredible struggle,” said Nakuset, Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, member of the Network, and the person who spearheaded the 2015 agreement.

The Network and the SPVM agreement came about after a study on Montreal’s Cabot Square – regularly used by Indigenous people because of its proximity to services such as The Open Door and the Children’s Hospital – revealed systemic issues surrounding police interactions with Indigenous park users.

On February 14, Rachel Deutsh, the then-Coordinator of the Cabot Square Project, related observations from park users and intervention workers that she said were unacceptable and avoidable. In one incident, said Deutsh, “An Inuk woman in the métro with a colposcopy bag was dragged and yelled at in French. Then sent to the hospital with a ticket.” The situation was supposedly resolved when the police claimed that they were saving her life.

Deutsh says the point of this testimonial is that “We’re giving on-the-ground issues of police behaviour, but there’s a bigger issue with the work we’re doing at a higher level. It points to larger systemic issues within the police.”

Wina Sioui, a lawyer for the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, observed that she is hearing one message in particular: “The importance of working with Indigenous peoples, and not to impose.”


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