VAL D'OR, Que. — Citizens protested in the streets of Val d'Or on Friday after Crown prosecutors confirmed none of the six provincial police officers accused of abusing native women in the northwestern Quebec town would be charged.
Recognizing the kind of anger and frustration their decision would trigger in the community, prosecutors told reporters that despite no charges being laid, it didn't mean the accusers weren't telling the truth.
"We have to be clear," said Mathieu Locas, with Quebec's Crown prosecutor's office, told a news conference Friday. "The fact that charges are not being laid doesn't mean the event didn't take place. The burden of proof on the Crown is very high and we have to show that these suspects are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
"And in the cases that we received," Locas continued, "unfortunately we don't have enough evidence to show that."
Despite the Crown prosecutor's words, citizens across the town banged drums in the streets and peacefully protested before and after the afternoon news conference.
Quebec's Public Security Department mandated the Montreal police force to investigate allegations that aboriginal women in Val d'Or were physically and sexually abused by provincial police.
The allegations came to light following an investigative report by Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquete in 2015.
There were initially 14 complaints against six officers, who were suspended pending the results of the investigation.
The provincial government expanded the Montreal police's mandate, however, to include similar complaints against officers from other parts of Quebec.
By April, Montreal police had 38 cases of complaints of police abuse, including rape, sexual assault, harassment, and so-called "starlight tours," where police would allegedly take people against their will and drive them far outside town and abandon them.
Montreal Police said these cases were part of "phase one" of their investigation, while cases in the second phase would be analysed in the following weeks.
Crown prosecutors said they received enough evidence to charge two retired officers, for offences allegedly committed over 20 years ago, in a town hundreds of kilometres away from Val d'Or.
Retired provincial police officer Alain Juneau was charged with sexual assault and assault, allegedly committed between 1992-94 in Schefferville, Que., a remote northeastern part of the province near the Newfoundland and Labrador border.
The second officer charged is Jean-Luc Vollant, a retired officer with Schefferville's native police force. He is charged with three counts including rape and sexual assault, between 1980-86, also in Schefferville.
Both men were released on conditions and are scheduled to appear in court in January.
Quebec's association of provincial police officers released a statement condemning the investigation.
"We hope that the government won't cede once again to pressure and won't create a public inquiry," the association said, referring to the calls from native groups for an independent investigation.
First Nations leaders in the community of Val d'Or, about 530 kilometres northwest of Montreal, and right across the country said they weren't satisfied with the results of the investigation.
Vice-Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Kim Beaudin, released a statement saying it "highlights the need to overhaul the relationship between police and Indigenous communities."
The national Commission of Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also commented.
"The situation in Val-d'Or is exactly the type of situation that the National Inquiry will look at. Policing is a crucial government service that certainly falls under the Inquiry's mandate," the inquiry said in a statement.
Quebec's Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux reiterated the government's position in a news release, saying the province would create a "working round-table on the quality of relations between police forces and indigenous people."