Aboriginal women from Val-d’Or, Quebec, have come forward with deeply disturbing accusations of physical and sexual violence by officers of the Sureté du Québec (the Quebec Provincial police force). The allegations were uncovered by Enquête, a CBC Radio-Canada investigative program, and made public on October 22nd. Enquête had been investigating complaints that the SQ had not taken the disappearance of Sindy Ruperthouse, an Algonquin woman who went missing from Val-d’Or in April 2014, seriously – in the process unearthing a pattern of rampant and sickening abuse by local police spanning as far back as two decades.
The accusations include women being paid or forced to perform sexual acts on police officers, cases of women being harassed, beaten and being routinely picked up and driven to the outskirts of town and forced to walk home in freezing winter conditions. The SQ and Ministry of Security were aware of the allegations since May and reportedly launched an internal investigation at that time, criminally by the same police force that stands accused.
At the time of writing, nine officers (one deceased) are the subject of fourteen separate allegations. The accused police officers remained on the job until just recently when the story was aired on Enquête, attracting public scrutiny and outrage. The eight officers have since been placed on administrative leave (with pay and benefits intact) and in response to criticisms of the SQ investigating itself, the investigation has been transferred to the Montreal Police. Lise Thériault, the Quebec public security minister, responded to criticism for not acting sooner by claiming that the Enquête report brought details to light that had been previously unknown.
This begs the question: why did the SQ and the Ministry of Public Security not investigate the allegations thoroughly to uncover these details? They had been aware of the allegations for six months! Some of the Val-d’Or women have pointed out that their complaints to Quebec’s police ethics commissioner weren’t taken seriously or even responded to. The parents of Sindy Ruperthouse told reporters that the police had never even interviewed them since reporting their daughter’s disappearance over a year ago. If the SQ and Ministry of Public Security were not aware of all the details of misconduct and abuse, it was due to a lack of trying.
In the middle of growing public outrage and demands for justice in Val-d’Or and the rest of the province, the Quebec government announced that Public Security Minister Lise Thériault would be on sick leave for an unspecified illness for at least six weeks. Premier Philippe Couillard refused to meet with Aboriginal chiefs on October 27th after they demanded that he do so within 24 hours and instead set a date to meet with them over a week later than they had requested. The reaction of the director general of the provincial police force, Martin Prud’homme, has been absolutely despicable, denying that the pattern of abuse by provincial police towards Aboriginal women qualifies as a crisis and defending the character of the accused police officers. The treatment of the claims of abuse by Aboriginal women has been dismissive from the beginning. This is reflective of discriminatory attitudes which leave Aboriginal women particularly vulnerable to violence and targets of abuse of power by the police.
Governmental and police officials have an interest in trivializing or hiding misconduct and corruption in order to maintain the privileges that their positions entail. Furthermore, the state under capitalism exists to defend the interests of the ruling class and uses the police force to protect these interests. There is no genuine accountability by the police to Aboriginal communities or the broader working class, which is demonstrated by how rarely there is any justice for police brutality towards marginalized and oppressed communities.
Premier Couillard has agreed to appoint an independent observer over the investigation to be carried out by the Montreal police, but this is inadequate. The investigation is still being conducted by a faction of the state and the so-called independent observer has been appointed by the premier. We have absolutely no faith in either the SQ, or the Montreal police, to investigate these allegations. The state forces have always protected their own. The investigation being led by yet another police force also creates a barrier for other women who have experienced abuse at the hands of police to come forward. The chief of the assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Chislain Picard, is calling for an independent inquiry into the allegations against the SQ, which we completely support. We demand an independent investigation under the direction of Aboriginal communities and the broader working class organized in the trade unions.
Under pressure of public outrage, the government has been forced to allot $6 million to support Aboriginal women who have experienced abuse in Val-d’Or. The funds will supposedly go towards hiring health and social service providers in the region. This concession is a product of the movement, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Funding must be extended to all communities across the province and substantially increased to provide housing, education, training and employment on and off reserve – this also has to be replicated in each province across the country. The abuse experienced by Aboriginal women in Val-d’Or at the hands of police has also renewed the calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. For any inquiry to have a meaningful impact it would have to be carried out by representatives of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and the trade unions, and result in concrete and meaningful action. Another inquiry with no follow up would do little to change the situation of Aboriginal women.
While Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have committed to launching a federal inquiry, we can’t have any illusions that his government, which ultimately represents the interests of the banks and corporations, will follow through with the changes that are needed to end violence against Aboriginal women. The federal Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin did nothing to improve the lives of Aboriginal peoples, despite commissions and inquiries. Change must be organized from below – by representatives of Aboriginal communities and the working class.
In order to address the broader crisis of violence against Aboriginal women, the roots of the problem must be addressed. As we have previously explained, Aboriginal women are particularly vulnerable to violence as a result of the legacy of colonialism and assimilationist policies such as the residential school system, which were a form of cultural genocide aimed at removing the threat to capitalist expansion and exploitation of resources that the original habitants of this land had posed. These practices had a lasting intergenerational impact on Aboriginal communities resulting in high rates of poverty, mental and physical health challenges and violence. Additionally, the Canadian state perpetuated discriminatory views towards Aboriginal peoples to justify their policies aimed towards cultural genocide which, compounded by sexism, continue to make Aboriginal women targets of violence.
In order to address the myriad of challenges faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples across Canada, the conditions that continue to oppress Aboriginal people must be overthrown. Private corporations continue to exploit the resources on treaty land with the support of the federal and provincial governments, in addition to no consultation with local communities who do not see the vast profits generated by such development. While poverty currently places Aboriginal women in precarious positions that leave them vulnerable to violence, vast wealth exists in Canada that could be put to use providing quality education, employment, housing, healthcare, childcare and transportation for all. However, this wealth is currently concentrated in a small minority’s hands.
To end the conditions that make Aboriginal and other women vulnerable to violence we have to end poverty and inequality. This directly contradicts the profit motive of capitalism and is only possible under a nationalized planned economy, under democratic workers’ control and management. This struggle would also serve to break down discriminatory attitudes in society such as racism and sexism, as people would begin to cease viewing one another as competitors and unite against their common oppressor, the political and economic establishment, and build towards a better world that for the first time would produce and function in the interests of the majority. As for preventing further abuses at the hands of the police and ensuring the safety of our communities, real security can only be assured when it is organized from the bottom up, from the actual communities. Workers and the oppressed need to form democratically accountable bodies to defend themselves against violence, including violence perpetuated by the state.
By removing the profit motive and private ownership of the productive forces, Aboriginal communities would be genuinely consulted and engaged in all stages of development and production, which would directly employ and benefit the local communities. Aboriginal peoples must have autonomy over their land and resources, language, education, health care and other social services as a step towards ending centuries of oppression and the social problems that have been created as a result, including violence experienced by Aboriginal women.
An independent investigation under the direction of Aboriginal communities and the trade unions, and real punishment for all those complicit in these crimes.
An end to police violence against Aboriginal women, the oppressed and workers everywhere.
For the formation of democratically accountable defence committees, with involvement from Aboriginal communities, other oppressed groups and the organized working class.
Release the funding to address homelessness, poverty, health problems, mental health challenges and violence against women in Aboriginal communities across the country
For a united fight for socialism that can end the precarious social conditions that make women vulnerable to state and other violence. For a socialist society where security is organized by the oppressed rather than imposed on the oppressed.