Police should not police their own: Val d’Or SQ allegations demand an independent investigation

SQ
23Oct

Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête and its report on the harrowing stories of sexual violence targeting aboriginal women in the Quebec town of Val d’Or has left most Canadians reeling with shock and disgust.

Quebec Public Safety Minister Lise Thériault could barely hold back tears while she reacted to the allegations during a press conference this morning and vowed to take action. While I don’t doubt her sincere shock at the amplitude of the abuse, some of these allegations are hardly new. They were brought forward this past May. Did it take an investigative TV show revealing all the putrid ugliness of these women’s painfully honest testimonials and the inevitable public outrage for the government and the police to finally start acting? Did social media have to blow up before they stopped dragging their heels?

Despite the allegations having been public for half a year now, the eight accused officers had remained on duty. Imagine having the officers policing the streets and neighbourhoods of the same town where the women who bravely came forward reside in. Imagine coming face to face with them or living your life doing everything you could to avoid them, terrified of any reprisals. This is, after all, a small town of 32,000. Where do you hide and how do you protect yourself from officers who clearly had no qualms about abusing you for years? Why did the police think it was ok to keep these officers in the same community after these women bravely came forward?

At a news conference he called, SQ Capt. Guy Lapointe said that the allegations (some of which date back 10 years) “aren’t a reflection” of the police force.

Cool story, bro. Of course they are! Who exactly would they reflect badly on? Me? The guy who owns the corner dep? Of course the police force! These eight men (nine, if you count the police officer who will never face justice because he’s since passed away) who physically, emotionally, and sexually abused and took advantage of these women and who used the power given to them by the state on behalf of its citizens to protect us in order to terrorize and abuse these women for a decade were and still are police officers. They represent and reflect the force in every possible way. They have justifiably tarnished its name. And please remember this as you move forward: how this investigation is now conducted will also be an inevitable and logical reflection on you.

Predictably, now that it’s all in the public eye and the news has exploded all over our TV screens and Twitter feeds, we’ve now learned that the police officers have been put on leave (“sent home” is how it was worded.. it sounds so quaint and comfortable.. almost like a cozy retreat, only it’s for sex offenders) or transferred to administrative duty while the investigation is transferred over to the Montreal Police. This news, too, does little to appease me.

For as long as I live I will never understand how it’s deemed acceptable that the police can police their own. I can’t think of a bigger conflict of interest and I think it’s high time we started questioning the way the system is set up.

The police should simply not be policing themselves. How impartial can they really be? I mean, why don’t we get politicians to count their own ballots and students to mark their own exams while we’re at it?

It’s time we insist on – just as has already been established in Ontario – the creation of an independent civilian agency investigating such incidents, or ensure that Quebec’s police-ethics commissioner starts monitoring police probes.

The fact that the file has now been transferred over to the Montreal Police instead of the SQ does little to assuage my concerns. I want to believe that justice will be served, but it would be naïve of me to give all the benefit of the doubt to a police force who – despite repeated demands by the public – still lacks transparency in its actions, still displays clear signs of racial profiling, continues to use excessive force unreasonably and way too often, still conducts too many inquiries in the dark and insists on policing itself despite the credibility points it loses in the process.

If a community senses that its officers do not play by the rules, it fosters a sense of distrust and disrespect of the police department. The consequences can be far reaching and detrimental to all. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t really trust them to investigate this internally, and I really wish I did.

And my distrust and disappointment extends past the police force. I want my politicians to do more. Much more. On Thursday, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called the allegations troubling, but wouldn’t commit to any specific actions.

“I think we must all not only deplore, but strongly condemn, these acts if they are indeed corroborated by the investigation.” Sure, thanks, Phil. We all “deplore” and “condone” these actions. That’s the easy part. What are you going to do about it?

For years and years a number of Canadians have been imploring the government to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. Horrific incidents like these remind us of how widespread this problem is and why it’s important it finally becomes a reality.

Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reiterated that he intends to keep his promise. These latest revelation in his very own province, only 500 km from Montreal, I hope can only reinforce that belief.

I’m glad that the police and the politicians are stunned. I’m glad that these women were brave enough to come forward. I’m glad that people are utterly disgusted by the allegations. Now I want to see the people in power get busy and do something about it. If anyone thinks this vile situation in Val d’Or is an isolated case, they are in serious denial.