While a woman who went missing for several days was ultimately found by Montreal police on Thursday, members of the city’s Native community say a bad relationship with police keeps vital information from coming to light in similar investigations.

“People don’t always want to go to the police,” said Native Women’s Shelter Director Nakuset. “They don’t want to tell them, they don’t want to share with them because of the relationship. It hasn’t been a good relationship.”

Susie Koneak arrived in Montreal on Jan. 28 from Kuujuaq, a community in northern Quebec. Once in Montreal, she checked into Ullivik, a health and social services centre that helps Inuit who travel to Montreal to receive health care services.

Before being found, Koneak was last seen at the centre on Jan. 28. Centre Director Maggie Putulik said Koneak is back in Ullivik’s care.

She pointed out that adults who stay at the centre can come and go as they please.

“Aside from ensuring that our clients attend their medical appointments, we don’t hold them back,” she said. “They’re free to do what they want.”

Witnesses didn't trust police officers

According to Nakuset, Koneak had been seen by members of the city’s Indigenous community, but the police were never made aware.

“We have a relationship that’s been rocky since forever. We have the RCMP that used to take Indigenous kids and put them into residential school,” she said. “We heard about the case with Mina who was hit by a police car in her community and then dropped here to get help and then put in the police station and was just let go and then lost. This is our history.”

Nakuset she’s had discussions with staff about setting up an anonymous tip line for Indigenous cases. But until such a service is offered, she encouraged people in trouble to reach out to the shelter itself if they don’t feel they can go to police.

“If we have this anonymous tip line, then this information can go,” she said. “If people aren’t feeling safe to come forward… we have to find another way. This is a lot of stress on families and community members.”

Language is a barrier

That relationship is made even more fraught by a language barrier.

“A lot of times, if you speak to a police officer it has to be in French,” said Nakuset. “This woman is Inuk and she speaks English and all her friends speak English so to call the police there’s a language barrier.”

Montreal police spokesperson Raphael Bergeron said that people uncomfortable with talking to police can offer information anonymously via the city’s Info-Crime phone line at 514-393-1133.

“That’s anonymous, totally anonymous, so they provide the information and that information is treated,” he said.