The final report of the inquiry into Quebec's treatment of Indigenous people contains dozens of suggestions for police, social workers, and health care professionals.
Known as the Viens Commission after its president, retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens, the inquiry was launched in 2016 and heard from more than 1,000 people before its final hearing in December 2018.
The final document, presented Monday in Val d'Or, makes 142 recommendations for police, justice, corrections, health, social, and youth protection services throughout the province.
The primary basis for the report's conclusion is that the government needs to recognize and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and ensure those provisions become law.
Viens says it is urgent that the government act on the recommendations which include:
- an apology to the Indigenous peoples of Quebec for the damage caused for too long;
- Indigenous police forces should be granted the same status as other police organizations in Quebec, and given appropriate funding;
- creating specific justice systems for members of Indigenous nations, communities, or organizations in urban areas;
- developing an assessment tool specifically for Indigenous offenders in the corrections system;
- increasing access to many health and social services;
- ensuring Indigenous children are placed first with family or community members. If they get involved with the youth protection system, then authorities should commit to creating a special protection system for indigenous youth
Viens said Quebecers cannot deny there is systemic discrimination of Indigenous peoples throughout the province.
He referred to the definition used in courts, which includes direct and indirect discrimination that is widespread and even institutionalized in policies, practices and culture, that can follow that person all their life and have an impact on generations to come.
He said the insensitivity robs people of their dignity.
Viens added that cynicism on both sides will have to be overcome to move forward.
The impetus for the hearings came after an investigation into allegations that native women in Val d'Or accused six police officers of sexual abuse.
Investigators said they believed the women had been abused, but did not have enough evidence to lay any charges against officers.
The Viens commission was then launched, and travelled around the province over a 38-week period. It heard from 765 witnesses, and accepted reports from several hundred others.
The province was originally scheduled to release the report last Friday, until critics said the massive climate change protest that same day meant nobody would pay attention to the commission's report.
"The observations that were made are very troubling because the report says indeed aboriginal people are still victims of racism today," said Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault. "Those condemnable situations have to be addressed, have to find right solutions… through dialogue with all aboriginal groups possible."
Some are skeptical about the government's response.
"We feel that this report has overshadowed what triggered the initiative of this commission; those women that came courageously out to speak about those abuses," said Edith Cloutier, executive director of the Val d'Or Native Centre.
Cloutier drew a distinction between a recommended government apology for a lack of access to services, and apologizing to the women in Val D'or who have allegedly suffered abuse.
"They are saying although they welcome the conclusion of the report, they call for action, at the same time, they are saying, 'We are already in an action mode.' So to me, they feel that they are doing things right and that remains questionable in our view," said Ghislain Picard, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
"I'm very anxious to hear. Many of the things that they announced this morning were new to me. Where were we? How were we informed? To me, it speaks to the traditional unilateral approach by governments," he added.
The commission recommends the goverment task Quebec's ombudsman with evaluating and monitoring the implementation of these measures.
Premier Francois Legault has pledged to follow up on the commission's findings.