May 31, 2016

Silence and Indifference: Indigenous women testify to police violence

Demonstration in solidarity with the women of Val-d'Or
Marianne Breton Fontaine

On Thursday, October 22 2015, a team from Radio-Canada’s show Survey ran a shocking report on multiple cases of rape and the sexual abuse of Indigenous women in Val-d’Or. Originally, the team of journalists was not investigating these cases but rather the disappearance of Indigenous women and particularly that of Sindy Ruperthouse, an Algonquin whose disappearance in the of Spring 2014 demonstrated the shameful indifference of the media and Quebec authorities.

Around a table, friends Sindy Ruperthouse were questioned about the police investigation by journalist Josée Dupuis. The conversation then took another turn. The women started speaking about the abusive behaviour of police officers. Police officers who abused their authority for oral sex or other sexual favors; police who threatened indigenous women; police who abandoned women drunk in the middle of the forest for a more than two hour walk to downtown to “sober up”; police who beat and brutalized women; police who paid women in drugs and money for sex; police who raped women in the woods or in the police station. These were the same officers who did nothing to find Sindy Ruperthouse and other missing Indigenous women. During the reporting, courageous women spoke out, sometimes for the first time, about the horrors they had experienced at the hands of police in Val-d’Or.

Following the revelations of the friends of Mrs. Ruperthouse, other Indigenous women wanted to break the silence. Some went to file complaints. Fourteen cases were opened that targeted eight policemen in Val-d’Or. These are eight officers out of a force of fifty. It is enormous. Worse still, they are certainly not the only ones.

Through their words, these women forced the government to respond. It was impossible for the State to ignore the horror of the actions committed by its coercive forces. After the report, police responded at a press conference by minimizing the problem. It was apparently a problem of “bad apples,” as if these stories were isolated and distinct cases, and not the clear picture of what the police system actually is in reality for Indigenous people. Since then, neither the police nor the government of Quebec, has really fulfilled their responsibilities. Some funding announcements were made by the Government of Quebec and cameras will be placed in the police patrol cars of Val-d’Or, but nothing was done that could really change the situation.

In a statement, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Native Women’s Association, said: “I am deeply concerned by the allegations from Val-d’Or, but not at all surprised. We know that acts of physical, sexual and institutional violence were inflicted on our women and girls at the hands of the authorities for decades. I hope that by shining light in these dark corners, we will one day arrive at justice. Violence against Aboriginal women and girls must end.”

The Cree Nation launched a boycott against Val-d’Or in solidarity with the women who denounced their attackers in the police. Grand Chief Coon Come explained that his community was taking action “to show the non-Native population of Val-d’Or that we are standing with the Native women until the Mayor can assure us that our people and our women are safe here.”

For other Indigenous women, this story reopened many wounds. In Montreal, for example, a home to Indigenous women went through an internal crisis. Healing circles took place to help women in distress. Tongues were loosened across Quebec. Other women came out denounce cases of rape and violence, like those experienced in Val-d’Or, perpetrated with impunity by other police forces. The scale of the attacks and their widespread nature again shows that Canada is still a colonial state which exercises systemic violence against Indigenous peoples. For these women, it is both the weight of colonial and patriarchal violence that must be carried.

Family of Sindy Ruperthouse demand justice.
After being sexually assaulted and beaten by police, Kristen Wawatie challenged one of her attackers by saying she would take him to court. The officer replied: “Who do you think will they will believe? A policeman or a drunk?” Despite the threat, the young woman made a complaint, but the SQ refused to hear it on the pretext that she had no lawyer. However, this requirement is phony. Nobody needs a lawyer to file a complaint.

An Indigenous activist in Sept-Îles interviewed by Radio-Canada compared the police and the Canadian and Quebec justice system to the American KKK. The justice system is in practice a denier of justice for Indigenous people.

The police protect themselves and breed a brutal racism against Indigenous peoples. Institutionally, the police and the Ministry of Public Security treat Indigenous people like second-class citizens. It is a Quebec reality and a Canadian reality. Remember that thousands of Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since 1990, and that it was only after many years of struggle that a public inquiry was finally agreed to.

For the police of Val-d’Or, the SPVM (Montreal Police) will be the ones to carry out the investigation. Yet again, it is the police investigating the police.

Until there is fundamental change in the Canadian State and it is recognized that Canada was built on land theft and the denial of Indigenous sovereignty, these tragedies will continue to reproduce themselves.


This article is printed in Issue 20 of Rebel Youth which is now available! The issue deals has a focus on racism and anti-racist struggles. Find out more and subscribe today!

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