Commission of Inquiry 5 v3On September 15, 2017, the Director of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, Donald Nicholls, presented a brief to the Public Inquiry Commission on Relations between Indigenous Peoples and Certain Public Services in Québec. He was accompanied by Denis Blanchette, member of our Judicial Advisory Committee and legal counsel with the Department. 

The Commission’s mandate is to investigate, analyze and make recommendations concerning measures to prevent or eliminate any form of violence, discriminatory practices or different treatment in the provision of certain public services (police services, correctional services, justice services, health and social services as well as youth protection services) to the Indigenous people of Québec.

The brief of the Department presented to the Commission built on, and was intended as a complement to, the initial brief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and Cree Nation Government presented to the Commission by former Grand Chief Dr. Matthew Coon Come and Cree representatives on June 14, 2017. In the preparation of its brief, the Department reviewed agreements, programs, services and experiences of its staff and clientele. The Department used the data obtained to outline a more specific perspective on certain issues related to justice and correctional services to the Crees. It provided examples of collaboration between the justice, social and youth protection services, which could serve as a useful model for addressing some of the issues before this Commission.

The Department started by emphasizing the need to fully implement the provisions of Section 18 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which is crucial to the administration of Justice for the Crees. Director Nicholls outlined more specifically a path forward which revolves around four (4) important areas to significantly improve services to the Crees, while preventing and eliminating any form of discrimination and violence. They are: (i) CAVAC services; (ii) Investigations of Complaints or Allegations of Misconduct against Police Force Members; (iii) Violence against Indigenous Women and Sexual Exploitation; and (iv) Services in the Correctional System.

As related social issues that contribute to the vulnerability of Indigenous Peoples and impact the incidence of criminal behaviour, Director Nicholls also highlighted the overcrowding in housing, and the need for an immediate and long term solution to housing issues in Cree communities. As a summary of the two and a half hour-long presentation, the path forward leading to improvement and to address some of the issues relevant to the work of the Commission included the full implementation of the provisions of Section 18 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by and in collaboration with Government of Québec. Other more specific recommendations included the following:

CAVAC services

  • Increasing awareness and sensitivity to the particular circumstances and possible issues of Indigenous clients through training, in order to offer services and intervention that are culturally appropriate;
  • Offering services in at least both in French and English, and preferably Cree, and having interpreters whenever possible;
  • Adapting services to Crees so not to offer a one size-fits-all approach;
  • Establishing protocols to include more women in frontline services in dealings with Indigenous women and children;

Investigations of Complaints or Allegations of Misconduct against Police Force Members

  • Insuring independent and impartial investigations in allegations of criminal offences involving police;
  • Building trusting relationships with Indigenous people and with the resources that can provide additional, complementary assistance to Indigenous clients;

Violence against Indigenous Women and Sexual Exploitation

  • Addressing the housing crisis in Cree communities, as severely overcrowded housing creates conditions ripe for tension and abuse;
  • Imposing punitive measures onto stakeholders when they tolerate or contribute to the perpetuation of discrimination and violence against Indigenous people;
  • Implementing approaches and a setting, whether in corrections, medical intervention, etc., that respect and honour Indigenous culture and realities;
  • Implementing effective prevention strategies that address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and sexual exploitation;
  • Creating in each public service department working with Indigenous people a position for a point person whose responsibility would be to monitor all forms of discrimination against Indigenous people;
  • Continuing to support the need for specialized programs, services and facilities, such as women’s shelters, for women in Cree communities;

Services in the Correctional System

  • Further developing, implementing and expanding within the correctional system special programs and services that take into account the Cree way of life and culture;
    In cases of detention outside the Cree communities, keeping Cree detainees in the same detention facilities, preferably in Amos, for proximity to their families and communities, and to allow the Department to further develop on-site services and training for Crees while in detention;
  • Providing and allocating for the development of culturally appropriate “compensatory work programs” in lieu of fines that compound and put Indigenous Peoples into detention for minor infractions;

The Government of Québec must provide financial resources for these recommendations, including meaningful support to Indigenous communities to develop, enhance and implement crime prevention programs, alternative sentencing and rehabilitation treatment and programs.

On his presentation to the Commission, Donald Nicholls commented: “A key element for social justice is actually to have a Nation-to-Nation collaborative approach to the delivery of justice in Eeyou Istchee, as the discussions lead to change. This is the path forward and there are great opportunities to immediately improve services to Indigenous people.”

The Commission, presided by retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens, is to complete its work and submit its report, including its observations, conclusions and recommendations, no later than November 30, 2018.

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