The third day of the Quebec inquiry hearings in Kuujjuaraapik, Nunavik continued on with a familiar theme Thursday – the frayed relationship Inuit in the province have with their own police force.
One Inuk witness who testified publicly but asked the inquiry to be kept anonymous, told the story about an unflattering incident between police and a man threatening to take his own life.
He recounted that in 2014, three police officers confronted an unarmed suicidal Inuk man with their guns drawn.
“They were all yelling, whatever you do don’t shoot him,” was how the witness described bystanders around the incident in which no one was harmed. “I had never seen a police man dealing with a suicidal person, I don’t think it’s their job.
“I think it’s social worker’s job to deal with suicidal people.”
The witness said that police wouldn’t allow anyone to talk to the man even though they knew him well.
“That’s what happens a lot, we find quite a few policemen shooting people who ask for help. Whoever is in trouble would be shot too often.
The law in Nunavik is upheld by the Kativik Regional Police Force.
They are technically an Indigenous police force – but only three of the 48 patrol officers are Inuit.
Since July of 2016 they have been involved in 11 incidents where Inuit have died or have been seriously injured. That’s 55 times the rate of Montreal police when taking into account population size.
The anonymous witness wasn’t the only one to bring up the Kativik police.
(Johnny Anautak breaks down while testifying at the Quebec inquiry. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN)
“Our police station is very disgusting,” testified Johnny Anautak.
Anautak went on to say the police jail in Akulivik hasn’t been cleaned in two years, and that the air is so foul that social workers gag when they enter.
He said police also proposition women in the jail .
“There were some few cops, when they arrest women, they say ‘if you want to be released, we could do this, we could have sex and I could just release you.”
Anautak broke into tears during his testimony when describing a deadly night in June 2017.
His cousin Ilutak Anautak stabbed three family members to death before being killed by police.
Johnny Anautak testified that his aunt called police about Ilutak’s behavior beforehand – but they were slow to act.
“If they did their job, he wouldn’t move from house to houses, he wouldn’t have killed more people,” he said.
Anautak also touched on his own experiences in Quebec’s prisons where he says Inuit are given inadequate resources compared to other prisoners and are treated differently.
“In the Inuit sector, we are mistreated,” he said.
“They call us dogs.”
The Quebec correctional system was also part of Leah Unaluk’s testimony in the afternoon.
Unaluk, a court worker and first responder, testified that there are not enough support for people in prison or after care to prevent them from re-offending.
“If they come back home, I would want a budget for them to go out in the land, it’s because it’s very peaceful,” she said.
The lack of mental health resources in her home of Puvirnituq is painfully evident to Unaluk where earlier this year her nephew took his own life.
He was one of 11 to have died by suicide this year in Puvirnituq alone.
“We lost too many now,” she said. “One is already enough.”
Next week the Quebec inquiry will travel to Kuujjuaq, where the topic of suicide prevention will be discussed with health officials and the chief of Kativik police is also scheduled to testify.