The Canadian Press
MONTREAL – An inquiry that has been examining discrimination experienced by Indigenous Quebecers at the hands of the public service began hearings in Montreal on Monday, with a high-profile Saskatchewan court ruling looming large over the proceedings.
Sedalia Fazio, a Mohawk elder originally from Kahnawake who presided over the opening prayer, said the timing of the hearings was difficult given the verdict in the Colten Boushie case.
A jury deliberated 13 hours before finding Gerald Stanley not guilty last Friday of second-degree murder in Boushie’s slaying.
Fazio said the Boushie case made her own presence at Monday’s hearing difficult, “when my people are hurting so bad, when we feel such injustice right now.”
A Montreal vigil in support of the Boushie family is planned for Tuesday afternoon.
Fazio said that feeling of injustice in the 2016 death of Boushie, a resident of the Red Pheasant First Nation, 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 policemen on him. I have pictures of my son with boot prints on his head.”
The Quebec inquiry, announced in December 2016, was mandated to look into the way Indigenous Peoples are treated by the police, the province’s youth protection agency, the public health department as well as the justice and correctional systems.
It came on the heels of allegations of mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples living in northwestern Quebec.
Last Friday, the province announced the commission, chaired by retired Quebec Superior Court justice Jacques Viens, will have its mandate extended by 10 months.
It had requested the extra time to ensure it could hear from as many people as possible.
Viens has already made several recommendations, but a final report is now due in the hands of the provincial government in September 2019.
During the next phase, which includes this two-week session and another two weeks of proceedings in Montreal next month, the inquiry will hear from citizens and their personal experiences with authorities.
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.
The Viens inquiry has already heard from 131 witnesses over 47 days – mainly expert-type witnesses – in Val-d’Or, about 530 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
Quebec’s Indigenous communities are made up of 11 distinct nations, with many living in an urban setting.
“We are starting to hear more and more from those everyday citizens,” Viens said.