What a time this has been. What started out as a story on a missing Cree woman, Sindy Ruperthouse became much more as allegations of misconduct, sexual and otherwise, came to light when First Nations women in Val-d’Or courageously shared their stories with Radio-Canada’s Enquête program. A quiet internal investigation of the SQ officers that started earlier this spring blew wide open, triggering intense reactions across Quebec and beyond.
There was shock and outrage among Quebec’s First Nations leaders. The Cree leadership was quick to act, cancelling the annual hockey and broomball tournament in Val-d’Or saying they wouldn’t hold it in a place that was unsafe for their women. This meant a loss of almost $4 million for the town. Other meetings have been cancelled or moved. A yearly business exchange day was moved to Amos. Cree Nation Government departments were instructed to get supplies and services elsewhere.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come defended this position by noting Val-d’Or Mayor Pierre Corbeil appeared more concerned over losing revenue for the city economy than about the systemic racism Crees faced there. He had plenty of support. Chiefs from all over Quebec banded together in unity to say enough is enough.
I respect the police. They have difficult jobs as guardians of our society. Yes, the SQ officers in question are entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. That is the rule of law, but the way the situation has been handled is not in keeping with the responsibility of their positions. As police officers they hold a great deal of authority and power. If they tell you to get into the police car you don’t really have a choice. Any potential abuse of that power must be taken seriously and dealt with in a manner that leaves no question in the public mind that all that can be done has been done to ensure public safety.
Rogue cops are a danger not only to the public they serve but also to the integrity and credibility of the entire police force.
That said, I am disappointed the Quebec government is resisting calling a provincial judicial inquiry. It is the only process that has real teeth, the power subpoena witnesses to testify under oath. Premier Couillard said he is waiting to see if an expected federal inquiry into murdered and missing women covers the same ground. Since the Val-d’Or victims are still alive and not missing, it seems just to be a cop-out.
There are two possible answers for this response. One is to give the Quebec government some time with a hope and prayer that First Nations will once again become the passive voices that they have often been. Another possibility is that the Couillard believes that these alleged crimes are on the same scale as murdered and missing women. One can hope the second is the case, but I have my doubts.
It is obvious that a system must be put into place to oversee the police and their actions. Coon Come has said they are out of control. In some ways we can see his reasoning given how many police officers are actually punished compared to accused civilians. I have seen armed police officers protesting. Imagine what would happen if Native people carried firearms during a demonstration. That would seem to tell us that there are two rules of law in Canada – one for the police and another for the rest of us.