The Montreal police force was in the spotlight Wednesday as the Viens Commission continued its examination into the relationship between indigenous people and public services in Quebec.
Examples abounded about the strained relationship between indigenous communities and Montreal police.
“Those that are vulnerable are the ones that are getting targeted more by the police. So I don't get targeted for standing in a metro, but I know my clients are getting ticketed,” said Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.
She alleges that advocating on behalf of the shelter’s clients is also dangerous.
“There was actually one of our outreach workers that got assaulted by police just for speaking out about police behaviour against an indigenous person,” she claimed.
They say people are often intimidated or harassed in Cabot Square, a meeting place for First Nations and Inuit populations.
“One of the comments that were made during these meetings by an agent from (Station) 12 was that he believed that the strategy would be to tag indigenous people living in and around Cabot Square with numbers, that they could identify them because their names were not important to him,” said Allison Reid of the Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network.
The communities feel their basic rights are often disregarded, as when two indigenous women died last summer under what some said were suspicious circumstances, yet police did not investigate to the community’s satisfaction.
“For the change to happen, we need to start being heard,” said Nakuset.
The commission was created after abuse allegations were levelled at police officers by indigenous women in Val d'Or.
Meantime, a training program was established to help sensitize police in Montreal.
The agreement was signed with the force in 2015.
“I was honoured to sign it. I think it's good practice to have a better working relationship with police,” said Nakuset.
But after a trial run with 120 officers, the community organizers maintain police were not open to learning about aboriginal history.
“During the training there were many officers laughing and not listening,” said one of the speakers at the hearing.
Police then abruptly cancelled the remaining sessions, saying they weren't what they needed.
The community workers say they kept quiet for too long about that bad experience to avoid conflict with police.
Now, though, they say they must seize the moment to speak up.