NEWS
03/31/2016 18:49 EDT | Updated 04/01/2017 01:12 EDT

Quebec promises action after new allegations of abuse against aboriginal women

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux has vowed the government will take action following another report by Radio-Canada's investigative program, Enquête, where aboriginal women across Quebec reported suffering physical and sexual abuse at the hands of provincial police.

More aboriginal women allege abuse at hands of Quebec provincial police

Coiteux called the nature of the women's allegations "extremely serious, very troubling and unacceptable."

"These allegations will for sure bring with them a government response. We won't sit around with our arms crossed," he said.

The women – who hail from places in the province such as Schefferville and Maniwaki – say they wanted to share their own experiences after Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête aired a story in November about aboriginal women in Val-d'Or alleging they were sexually assaulted by Sûreté du Québec officers over a period of two decades.

One woman, Lise Jourdain, said she experienced abuse at the hands of SQ officers over 25 years ago.

"I was raped by police officers in Schefferville," she told Enquête.

Another woman, Kristen Wawatie, originally from Lac Barrière in the Abitibi region of Quebec, said she was violated by an officer in Val-d'Or in August 2012.

"He said, 'Who are they going to believe, the police or a drunkard?'"

On Thursday, Coiteux told Radio-Canada he did not know other cases similar to those reported in Val-d'Or may have occurred in other parts of the province. He said he only first heard about this when Enquête's report aired.

Complaints never heard, woman says

In the case of the aboriginal women in Val-d'Or who broke their silence – along with the women from Maniwaki, Sept-Îles and Schefferville – they say it's difficult to file a complaint against police.

The women who agreed to speak out said they worried no one would believe them, especially when it comes to sexual assault allegations.

'Geographic therapy'

In Val-d'Or, Enquête journalists heard from women who said they were victims of the "geographic therapy", a practice whereby police leave people, specifically aboriginal people, in the middle of nowhere for them to sober up.

In Maniwaki, a woman who claims to have suffered this kind of treatment said she had to go to the Sûreté du Quebec four times. The SQ said it did not receive the first three complaints filed by the woman on the police website.

Coiteux said he has asked for verifications to be made regarding these "troubling" allegations.

"We will move quite quickly, believe me, " he said.

Code of silence

There are also claims that cases of alleged abuse are subject to a sort of omerta, or code of silence -- be it within the police force or within the public security ministry.

A former employee of the ministry, Isabelle Parent, worked under the junior minister for 12 years inspecting police forces.

"There was no interest. At the top, there was really no interest in the security of aboriginals, aboriginal women," she said.

"That shocked me."

Parent said prosecutors often said they didn't have enough information to move forward with charges.

Coiteux said he will try to get answers.

"We will never allow such serious matters, or any matters whatsoever, be stifled."