A group of settler allies supported by Algonquin drummers from Barriere Lake held a rally outside of the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) detachment in Val d’Or on Jan. 3. The rally was organized in response to a lawsuit launched by 41 SQ officers against the news outlet ICI Radio-Canada for airing the testimonies of Indigenous women denouncing sexual violence perpetrated by local police. The demonstration was also in response to a pro-police march in Val d’Or on Dec. 11.
Content Warning: Police violence, Sexual Abuse, Violence against Indigenous Women
Once you have driven for three hours through the Parc de la Vérendrye, you reach the region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue. One of the bigger towns you will first come across when coming into the region from the south is Val d’Or. Every town is quite far away from one another. You need to calculate about one hour of travel time between the larger communities.
What else do you need to know? Well, in October 2015, you might have heard for the first time the testimonies of local Indigenous women, which were aired on the show “Enquêtes” by Radio-Canada. The show featured Indigenous women speaking about the various sexual assaults and physical abuses perpetrated by some police officers.
One of these abuses is known as a starlight tour. This is a form of police abuse specifically targeting Indigenous folks. It consists of driving an individual to an isolated area in the freezing cold and leaving them there. The tours are well documented in Saskatoon. This is done under the pretext that “walking home will sober them up.”
I have never heard of this being done to a white person.
Whether a person has taken substances or not should not come into the equation of attempting to justify this present-day colonial torture. Everyone deserves shelter, care and respect, no matter what state of lucidity they are in.
In the case of Val d’Or, these instances also come with sexual abuse and humiliation. What happens in Val d’Or is symptomatic of white settler colonial occupation and it is not an isolated case. It is the backbone of the nationally acknowledged crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
The calling out of this systemic oppression does not require much analysis, skepticism or nuancing; it is so blatantly spilled out in front of all of us. At least that is what I thought.
In total, 37 complaints of sexual abuse led to only two charges being laid (against retired officers no longer in Val d’Or). Once that decision reached the public, the show J.E. by the Québécois news outlet TVA, gave a platform to some police officers to “break the silence” and give their “side of the story.”
When I first came across a preview of that show, it struck me as extremely disrespectful. The background music had a theme of suspense, which gave the show an allure of a fictional crime show designed for entertaining the public, asking “On which side are you?”
What is most harmful in giving such a platform to the police officers is that it can re-traumatize the women, while deliberately seeking to “win back” the reputation of rapists and sex offenders.
Forty-one police officers are now suing Radio-Canada for $2.3 million for having aired the testimonies of those women. This means that even those with influence who attempt the bare minimum — listening to and covering what the women are saying — are also at risk of being harshly punished.
This also means that even though people claim that “it’s only some police officers,” the vast majority of officers behind closed curtains are complicit because they care more about protecting their institutions than confronting their colleagues.
It does not end there. Residents of Val d’Or, including the mayor, have organized and publicly marched in support of the police officers, as if they were the true victims of substantial loss and abuse. Meanwhile, Cindy Ruperthouse, a local Indigenous women, has been missing since 2014.
The message is clear: there will be consequences if you speak out against sexual abuse and colonial violence, especially if you are an Indigenous woman. This is why I asked allies, especially white allies, to show up in support of the Indigenous women at the police station in Val d’Or on Jan. 3.
I plan to launch a blog to post one letter of solidarity a week. Grassroots support and pressure will be crucial in demanding accountability, whether a provincial inquiry takes place or not. Many cannot afford to wait for more proof and “publicly respectable” findings investigating why this is happening. Unfortunately many do not expect anything more than a watering down of the concerns raised by those who were and are the most affected.
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 9, No. 4 (January/February 2017).