Extraordinary police violence against Indigenous people must end

Cabot Square incident just the latest in a long history of police responses that too often resort to lethal force in lieu of communication, de-escalation, and non-violent resolution
Photo: titocurtis / flickr

The following open letter was sent Wednesday to minister Marc Miller and the federal government on behalf of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, Resilience Montreal, Quebec Native Women, and the Assembly of First Nations Quebec- Labrador.

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To: The Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services

Dear Honorable Marc Miller,

You expressed outrage over the recent “wellness check” by the Edmundson police on Chantel Moore, which resulted in police shooting Chantel to death. We — The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, Resilience Montreal, Quebec Native Women (QNW), and the Assembly of First Nations Quebec- Labrador (AFNQL) — are also outraged. Yet part of our outrage comes from our awareness of how frequently police use extraordinary violence to intervene in situations involving Indigenous people.

A deeply troubling incident recently occurred in your own neighborhood, less than 800 meters from your riding office. On May 3 at Cabot Square in Montreal, where a First Nations woman, visibly in psychological distress, needed to be transported by ambulance to receive emergency hospital care. Several vehicles and 17 SPVM police officers were the first responders, supported by the K-9 squad, while waiting for an ambulance. Was this also a wellness check? Is this the sort of "wellness" Indigenous people across Canada should expect to follow the arrival of police in a time of crisis?

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We ask you this as a question, but we know the answer: across Canada, Indigenous people are terrified of police, because when we call them for help, they rarely come to save us or when they come they apply excessive force, including, far too often, lethal force — in lieu of communication, de-escalation, and non-violent resolution.

There's no hyperbole at all in that statement: this is as fair and accurate an assessment that we can make as Indigenous persons who have watched these events unfold with unrelenting, demoralizing constancy for decades.

We are outraged by this intervention! How do we protect Indigenous women from the police assigned to "serve" and "protect" them? Does each Indigenous woman in crisis or in need of medical help need an intervention worker to ensure her safety from police?

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL), Quebec Native Women (QNW), Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and Resilience Montreal have joined together to advocate on behalf of this Indigenous woman.

On May 20, we sent an official letter to the Montreal Mayor Ms. Valerie Plante, to the Quebec Minister of Public Safety, Ms. Geneviève Guilbault and to the Quebec Minister of Justice Ms. Sonia LeBel to denounce the inappropriate and excessive police response to the events of May 3. In response, we received no action and no outrage. We have also filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, Premier François Legault announced he does not believe systemic racial discrimination exists in Quebec.

Minister Miller, as a rejoinder to their silence and Mr. Legault's baffling statement: how many Indigenous people need to be harassed, assaulted, or killed before police, and governments at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels, commit themselves wholly to accountability?

We understand your outrage at the news of Chantel Moore's death, but we want more than outrage; we need action. We believe that in your privileged situation, you would be able to invite governments of different jurisdictions to a national discussion on the accountability of police forces towards Indigenous peoples. The Government of Canada and its provinces have international obligations towards the security of Indigenous peoples, and more specifically towards women and children.

If your expression of outrage was deep and honest, we hope it will fuel serious changes to the relationship between police and Indigenous people

This recent situation is part of a historical continuum of ongoing police violence towards Indigenous women in Quebec. Recently, Val-d’Or Indigenous women reported numerous abuses by police officers; from sexual abuses, intimidation, excessive force and starlight tours. The Quebec government instigated a provincial Inquiry the “Viens Commission” or CERP. The Inquiry also heard testimonies of inappropriate and excessive interventions of police forces towards Indigenous people in different cities of Quebec, including the Montreal SPVM. However, the report of the CERP Inquiry was received with much deception and anger, as no redress recommendations were addressed to the provincial police forces of Quebec. Another silence!!!! It seems that police abuse towards Indigenous women in Quebec does not create much indignation to our authorities.

As we call for action, we invite you to consult the Quebec Native Women’s brief filed before the MMIWG Inquiry which specifically addressed the abuses of police forces of Quebec and the actions that are needed to redress the broken relationship between police forces and Indigenous women and address the police abuses towards our women.

If your expression of outrage was deep and honest, we hope it will fuel serious changes to the relationship between police and Indigenous people, unlike those we have seen until now. We would be more than happy to support you in this initiative. Now is the time for change!

Chief Adrienne Jérôme, Co-Spokesperson, AFNQL Elected Women

Nakustet Sohhisiwin, Executive Director, Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal

Grand Chief Verna Polson, Co-Spokesperson, AFNQL Elected Women

Viviane Michel, President, Quebec Native Women

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