The Waskaganish band is in the middle of considering major reforms to its police force just as allegations of police brutality surface in the community.
One band official said some police officers are not accountable to the community. “Complaints are getting lost in the shuffle and are not being followed up on. There seems to be some resistance on the part of some police officers to the police director,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The police feel kind of isolated, not supported. There isn’t a cohesive effort to solve problems and bring people together,” said the official.
“The police are like ‘It’s hands off. It’s our area of jurisdiction. Even the band council shouldn’t be involved in our affairs,”’ he said.
The band is now examining a comprehensive report on its police force that recommends major changes, said the official.
“We are going to have to put a massive effort into correcting the problem,” he said.
The reform effort comes as the Sûreté du Québec investigates two Waskaganish police officers for allegedly assaulting a community member while he was being detained in the local jail.
(Last issue, we reported that one officer was under investigation. A band source has since informed us that two officers are being investigated.)
The community member, Christopher Stephen, said he was arrested after drunkenly disrupting a church service on August 6.
Stephen said that after he was jailed, he was verbally abusive toward an officer, who responded by punching and kicking him for “five or 10 minutes.”
Stephen faces charges of assaulting and uttering threats against a police officer, and a charge of uttering threats to cause bodily harm to an officer’s children, said Jim Hester, Waskaganish chief of police.
He has a court date on November 9 in Waskaganish.
Stephen said he was too afraid of the police to file a complaint about being beaten in the cell.
Another Cree who overheard the beating filed a complaint, he said. We could not confirm this independently.
After Stephen was released from the jail, he said he went to the Waskaganish Wellness Centre, where counselor Charles Esau witnessed his bruises. Esau confirmed to The Nation that he saw bruises on Stephen’s face right after his release: “He wasn’t in good shape.”
But Esau added that he could not confirm where, when or how Stephen received the bruises. “I didn’t witness the fact that he was assaulted,” he said.
Ernest Blueboy, local public-safety officer, wouldn’t comment on the case, saying only: “You’re innocent until proven guilty.” He said the SQ was called in because police rules state that such incidents must be investigated by an outside force.