The head of the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec says a provincial report into discrimination by the public service against First Nations and Inuit in the province is “too weak,” and doesn’t go far enough in recommending the changes needed.
“What we recommended when we presented our brief is that a special person be appointed to make sure that there’s proper action taken,” said Ghislain Picard, regional chief for the AFN in Quebec and Labrador.
But that was not one of Justice Jacques Viens’ recommendations.
For two and a half years, Viens led the inquiry that was charged with looking into the relationship between Indigenous peoples in Quebec and some of the province’s public services.
The inquiry was called after a number of First Nations women in Val d’Or, a mining city 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal, complained about physical and sexual abuse by members of the province’s police force, the Sûreté du Québec.
On Monday, Viens tabled the long awaited report.
“I recommend to the government to make right an error, and to make an apology to the Indigenous peoples of Quebec for the prejudices experienced for far too long by laws, policies, norms, and practices by public services where they live,” he said at a news conference in Val d’Or Monday morning.
Viens’ 520 page report contains 142 calls to action. Not just for police, but for other public services such as health, justice and social services.
The recommendations include more money for housing, implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and making services more friendly for non-French speaking Indigenous people.
Viens says the calls to action are meant to combat what he describes as systemic racism in the province.
“In a developed society like ours, this finding is unacceptable,” he said.
Picard says the report confirms what First Nations people have been saying for a long time.
He welcomes the report but worries about accountability around its recommendations.
(Justice Jacques Viens delivering his report in Val d’Or, Que. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
Following the report’s release, representatives from Indigenous Affairs, Justice, and Social Services held a news conference, also in Val d’Or.
Each praised the courage of the women who came forward and emphasized that they will be meeting with Indigenous leaders on Oct. 17 to discuss how to implement the calls to action.
“It’s not just a responsibility of government, it’s not just a responsibility of Indigenous Nations, it’s a responsibility of society,” said Sylvie D’Amours, minister of Indigenous Affairs.
But when asked about the apology Viens said Indigenous people should receive, D’Amours was evasive.
“A declaration will be made Wednesday by the premier, that will be pertaining to the report of judge Viens,” she said.
Picard says he knows who should receive the apology.
“We feel that apology should go towards the women who were the trigger of this commission,” he said.