MONTREAL – Native leaders and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard will meet next week to discuss allegations of serious misconduct of provincial police officers towards native women living in or nearby the northern town of Val d’Or.
The premier announced on Twitter that after both sides “returned to a tone of collaboration and mutual respect,” he’ll be meeting Quebec chiefs next Wednesday regarding recent news reports in which native women alleged officers physically and sexually abused them over a period of several years.
Tempers ran high on Tuesday after the chief of the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador demanded an immediate meeting with Couillard.
Ghislain Picard said the premier “didn’t have the choice,” which prompted a response from Couillard’s spokesman asking that he be respectful.
Picard softened his tone considerably Wednesday, extending an invitation to Couillard to attend the Nov. 4 meeting.
Couillard’s government has been on the defensive for several days responding to the accusations of sexual and physical assault against native women.
One day earlier, Picard told reporters after a meeting with chiefs in Val d’Or, located 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal, that the region was “in crisis” and the province’s aboriginal people have lost confidence in the country’s police forces.
He was reacting to a recent Radio-Canada report in which several aboriginal women in the region said officers had either assaulted them, forced them to perform sexual acts or had heard from other women who claimed to have been abused by police.
Quebec’s public security minister transferred the case from the provincial police to the Montreal police force and the premier said he would add an “independent observer” to oversee the investigation.
Eight provincial police officers have been suspended pending the results of the inquiry.
Picard said the chiefs would like a monitor of their choosing to also keep tabs on the investigation.
Quebec’s official opposition has called on the public safety minister, Lise Theriault, to resign, saying she is unfit and incapable to handle the file.
Couillard reiterated his confidence in Theriault, adding his government would be willing to launch a public inquiry into relations between natives and non-natives in the province.
Any such inquiry, however, would be “complementary” to a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women promised by Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau.