Legault announces former cop Ian Lafreniere to take over as Indigenous affairs minister

Minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs Sylvie D'Amours is out, and Ian Lafreniere is in as the CAQ government shuffles its cabinet.

Premier Francois Legault made the announcement at at a news conference Friday.

The former Montreal police (SPVM) officer and MNA for Vachon, Lafreniere was the public affairs officer for the SPVM before entering politics and is currently chair of the Select Committee on the Sexual Exploitation of Minors.

Lafreniere spoke about his plans moving forward.

"This is relation, this is trust, I'm going to build that I'm going to start today and people are going to judge me on my actions," he said.

Lafreniere did not want to speak about his plans, saying that he wants "to talk to First Nations first."

The move comes after Legault refused to give his backing to D'Amours, who has been the target of immense criticism from opposition parties and the populace on various files, including her response to the recent death of Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw woman who died in Joliette Hospital after being taunted by hospital staff.

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador said it was pleased with the appointment with some resignation.

"This is an opportunity to renew relations that have been damaged in recent months between the government and First Nations," an AFNQL news release reads. "This appointment, however, should not relieve the Premier from his primary responsibility."

AFNQL regional chief Ghislain Picard reminded the new minister that there are several emergencies that require immediate action, including the inquiry into Echaquan's death, moose hunting incursions in the La Verendrye wildlife reserve and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Picard is calling on the premier to do more.

"We are clearly at a crossroads in our relationship, and a change of minister will not be enough to change them. Premier Legault needs to be more invested," said Picard.

Legault doubled-down and would not admit that the province has a systemic racism problem Friday, but that he felt Indigenous leaders would be happy with his plans to deal with racism in the province.

"The last thing we need is to divide Quebecers," he said. "There is something that everybody believes is that we need to fight racism; we need to take action."

Lafreniere speaks both English and French - D'Amours speaks only French - and is seen as having a better understanding of the urban reality of Indigenous people.

Opposition part Quebec Solidaire was quick to say the shuffle illustrates the CAQ government's failure on the Indigenous file. 

"This change at the head of the Indigenous Affairs ministry illustrates the failure of the Premier in his management of files with the Indigenous people. The arrival of Mr. Lafreniere should not be a pretext for Mr. Legault to escape," said QS co-spokesperson Manon Masse. "A former police officer, soldier and public security assistant, Mr. Lafreniere will have to recognize that there is systemic racism within the police force and that the SPVM used racial profiling when he was its spokesperson."

Masse added that she expects Lafreniere to act on the Viens report immediately.

"At a minimum, before other tragedies occur, an Indigenous person must be able to receive medical services in the language in which they are comfortable speaking," she said.

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