Boushie case looms large over indigenous hearings in Montreal
Published Monday, February 12, 2018 8:29AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 12, 2018 6:45PM EST
Quebec's public inquiry about indigenous people and how they are treated by public servants is now hearing from people in the Montreal area.
Over the next two weeks many individuals are scheduled to testify at the Viens Commission about their own encounters, or encounters they have witnessed, involving police.
This round of hearings comes as many people are outraged over a not-guilty verdict delivered Friday in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man in Saskatchewan. A vigil is scheduled to take place Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Norman Bethune Square at Guy and de Maisonneuve.
Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations said the Boushie verdict was an example of something that will continue to happen until there is an acknowledgement of the racism that exists in Canada.
"And it goes back to the question I raised earlier about racism. If we continually deny that racism exists then we're nowhere near a solution," said Picard. “When you're treated differently because of your race, that's totally unacceptable.”
For the first of two rounds of Montreal hearings, indigenous leaders are going to explain some of the harassment and difficulties faced by their people with civil servants, including police officers.
Sedalia Fazio, a Mohawk elder originally from Kahnawake who presided over the opening prayer, said the Boushie case brought back memories of her own son's experience with law enforcement.
She said he was beaten by police in Montreal in a shoplifting incident just after the Oka Crisis in 1990 when he was about 13 years old and that she has little doubt he would have been treated differently if not for his Indigenous background.
"The killing of Colten brought back so many bad memories for me," Fazio said. "Yes, he (her son) was doing something he shouldn't have been doing, but he was 13 years old.
"He had four police men on him. I have pictures of my son with bootprints on his head."
Etuk Kasulluaq, 27, testified Monday to being seriously hurt by police last year after an arrest for breaking conditions by drinking alcohol.
Currently detained, he alleged he was thrown down a flight of stairs by police during an arrest and then left naked in a cell during a subsequent arrest in Puvirnituq, an Inuit village in Nunavik.
People will also discuss the difficulty indigenous people have getting healthcare and interacting with social services.
Members of the Akwesasne Mohawk Tribunal will describe some of the alternative methods to justice that have been used by indigenous groups in the region, while university professors will also explain some of the sociological and legal issues faced by indigenous people.
"You look at this commission and its work and its mandate, ultimately at the end of the day what it really brings about is the whole issue of our own relationship as a society between non-indigenous peoples and indigenous peoples," said Picard.
The commission, led by retired Superior Court judge Jacques Viens, began its work last June in Val d'Or, following an investigation into allegations of police violence against indigenous women.
That investigation found there were dozens of instances where police officers in Val d'Or, Schefferville, and other regions assaulted or sexually assaulted women, but could not confirm enough details to hold up in a court of law.
“We have to keep that in mind, because the whole relationship between the police forces and our community needs to be dealt with,” said Picard.
So far the commissioners have heard from 131 people in over 47 days, mostly in the Val D’Or area
The commission is now focused on Montreal, where up to 30,000 indigenous people live.
“Their situation might very well be different than what we see elsewhere in Quebec, in more isolated communities. So we need to come to Montreal to be closer to those people,” said Viens Commission chief counsel Christian Leblanc.
So far the commissioners have heard from 131 people in over 47 days, mostly in the Val D’Or area.
The second round of hearings in Montreal begins on March 12
Viens has already made several recommendations, but will offer a comprehensive report in September 2019.
- With a report from Sidhartha Banerjee of The Canadian Press