Years after scathing report into mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec, few calls to action imposed | CBC News

Years after scathing report into mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec, few calls to action imposed | CBC News

Montreal

Quebec’s ombudsman published the first update on the commission and found that less than a third of the calls to action have been implemented.

1st update on commission published Wednesday

Rachel Watts · CBC News

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A man cries sitting at a table next to a woman

In 2018, Viens commission witness Johnny Anautak sobbed as he recounted how he’d made a trip back to Akulivik to see his ill mother but was arrested for breaching bail conditions and never got to see her before she died. The commission heard testimonies before releasing its report in 2019. (Viens Commission)

Nearly four years after Quebec’s Viens report documented the mistreatment of Indigenous people, less than a third of the calls to action laid out in the commission have been implemented or are progressing as expected.

Quebec’s ombudsman, Marc-André Dowd, published the first update on the commission Wednesday, which was based on a three-year inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous people by Quebec’s public service.

Retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens wrote in the September 2019 report “it seems impossible to deny the systemic discrimination members of the First Nations and Inuit face in their relations with the public service.”

Viens outlined 142 calls to action. 

Dowd says the lack of results to date is due to several factors, including an absence of overall strategy by the Quebec government, fragmented initiatives and insufficient substantive planning.

‘A long road ahead,’ says ombudsman

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Dowd says there is a need for global leadership and co-ordination to generate systemic change and to build solutions.

He pointed to areas that need improvement, such as youth protection services, and how there is not enough being done to remedy the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth still in youth protection. Only four out of the 30 calls for action concerning youth protection services have been fully implemented or are progressing as expected.

A man in a suit speaks into a microphone.

Ombudsman Marc-André Dowd presented the update on the Viens Commission in Val d’Or, Que., on Wednesday morning. (Mélanie Picard/Radio-Canada)

Dowd says is important to note that government and public institutions have put in place some measures and investments, such as the building of residences for Indigenous students, for example. 

But he hopes in his next report, he’ll be able to announce a full implementation.

“There is still a long road ahead,” said Dowd. “Four years after the report was filed, this is clearly does not meet expectations.”

‘Onus is really in the hands of government’

Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, says it’s encouraging to have the ombudsman reinforce communities’ observations.  

“Four years later, we’re nowhere near a process that would see that implementation happen,” said Picard. 

“There needs to be a more comprehensive plan in order to really know where we want to be one year from now, two years from now and the next three years.” 

A man stands and speaks at a podium wearing an orange shirt.

Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard, seen here at a vigil in memory of Indigenous victims in 2021, says communities have observed that few recommendations have been implemented since the 2019 report. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

He says he wants a clear plan from the CAQ government and says it needs to improve its relationship with communities. 

“The onus is really in the hands of government as to what happens from here,” said Picard. “What is the vision of this government when it comes to First Nations and Inuit peoples?”

Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said he has seen the ombudsman’s report and that implementing change will take time. 

“Do we see action? Do we see change? Absolutely. Is it perfect? No,” said Lafrenière. 

“Believe me it’s not over, believe me it’s not perfect. I received this report with a lot of humility, realizing that there is still a lot of work to do.”   

Serious-looking man in a dark suit in the centre of a media scrum.

Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière says there is a still a lot of work to do for the province to enact real change. (Sylvain Roy-Roussel/Radio-Canada)

‘Complex’ issues require global approach, says expert

Sébastien Brodeur-Girard, professor at the School of Indigenous Studies at l’Université du Québec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, was part of the team who worked on the Viens Commission. 

He says there have been some gains, but progress has been slow.

Brodeur-Girard says the principal problem is the absence of a global strategy and comprehensive vision. Although there are initiatives, he explains they are often fragmented — which limit the potential for progress. 

“Some issues are pretty complex and require time,” said Brodeur-Girard.  

“For example addressing the housing situation in overcrowded communities, well of course that cannot be resolved overnight but without any global plan to address these issues and a way to implement them case by case, of course we won’t probably see much progress if that doesn’t change.”  

‘First Nations and Inuit, they know what they need’

The reconciliation process is long, but leaders have to stay focused, said Claude Dussault, deputy ombudsman. 

“The way we see it the glass is one-third full but two-thirds empty. The key work here is progress,” said Dussault. 

“As long as we’re moving in the right direction … we hope that in a couple of years we’re going to reach at least the 50 per cent benchmark and keep going.” 

He says the main issue today will be adapting approaches to allow for collaboration between government and Indigenous communities and leaders. 

“The First Nations and Inuit, they know what they need and we need to understand completely what their needs are and develop the services with them. It’s what we call the concept of co-construction.”

In order to reach their solutions, he says there needs to be a recognition of systemic discrimination, something the Quebec government has refused to acknowledge

A woman smiles at the camera

Marjolaine Étienne, president of Femmes Autochtones du Québec and Innu from Mashteuiatsh, hopes more Indigenous women will be involved in the commission moving forward. (Isabelle Potvin/Poz photographie)

In response to the update, Femmes Autochtones du Québec urged the government to recognize the presence of systemic discrimination and deliver on the recommendations. The organization’s president, Marjolaine Étienne, hopes more women will be involved in the project moving forward. 

“We hope to have the ear of the Quebec government so that they can recognize systemic racism and discrimination. I think it’s an important issue,” said Étienne.  

The calls to action focused on five sectors: policing, correctional services, the justice system, health and social services and youth protection.

The update, presented in Val d’Or, Que., highlighted the progress in each sector, including cross-disciplinary calls for action which include various public services:

  • Seven out of the 26 cross-disciplinary calls for action have been fully implemented or are progressing as expected.
  • Eight out of the 18 calls for action concerning correctional services have been fully implemented or are progressing as expected.
  • Five out of the 13 calls for action concerning police services have been fully implemented or are progressing as expected.
  • Nine out of the 16 calls for action concerning justice services have been fully implemented or are progressing as expected.
  • 10 out of the 34 calls for action concerning health services and social services have been implemented or are progressing as expected.
  • Four out of the 30 calls for action concerning youth protection services have been fully implemented or are progressing as expected.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec. You can reach her at rachel.watts@cbc.ca.

with files from Cathy Senay, Alison Northcott, Émilie Warren and Sara Eldabaa

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