APTN National News
Researchers of a new study are saying the city of Val d’Or and the provincial police force is systematically discriminating against its Indigenous population…especially those who are homeless.
“We know that there is a particular situation in Val d’Or when it comes to homelessness, there are issues of increasing rates of homelessness, and that there is the practice of judiciarization,” said Céline Bellot, professor of social work at the Université de Montréal.
Judiciarization refers to using the legal system to address non-legal issues, and the study co-authored by Bellot, uses the word to emphasize that the social problems facing homeless and vulnerable Indigenous Val d’Or residents are being dealt with through the justice system.
Specifically, Indigenous people in Val d’Or are subject to a disproportionate amount of tickets. Over a three year period (2012-2015), police gave Aboriginal people 76 percent of the tickets handed out, even though they make up less than 10 percent of Val d’Or’s population. Of the individuals who received more than 10 tickets, 95 percent are Indigenous.
The study goes on to say that Val d’Or compares unfavorably to other Quebec cities when it comes to ticketing. In 2012 Gatineau, a city with 6 times the population of Val d’Or, issued only twice as many tickets.
Most of the Val d’Or tickets are for intoxication and disturbing the peace, infractions that are often levied against the homeless…most of whom are Cree or Algonquin. And while the report says Indigenous people are the victims of systemic discrimination when it comes to ticketing, it also emphasizes that the police aren’t solely to blame.
” The SQ [Quebec provincial police] and their patrols downtown, they’re the first responders to the problem, the only responder to the problem. There is lack of nearby intervention in the street, there’s few social workers in the street, or none, depending on the time of day,” said Bellot.
The study says reasons for the increase of Val d’Or’s homeless population include growing poverty, a lack of affordable housing, and health issues.The report also goes on to make several recommendations for the police and all levels of government. In short, they insist Indigenous homelessness needs to start being treated as a social, rather than public security problem.
” The recommendations are addressed to everyone, notably to better work together to develop social interventions, but also there are recommendations more directly aimed at the judiciary system, notably a moratorium on imprisoning people for not paying their fines,” he said.
Bellot emphasizes the importance of a moratorium on ticketing the homeless and warns of the increased criminalization of the Indigenous population, citing the use of incarceration for default payment of fines.
The study says that at least one case, an individual was sentenced for up to three years in a federal penitentiary.
Currently, individuals in the database owe $479 330$ to the city of Val d’Or. As of December 2015, 77% of the tickets were still unpaid, meaning that one year later, warrants for default might start coming en masse.
The city of Val d’Or declined a request for interview, issued a statement to APTN saying the city is mobilizing to find solutions to homelessness.
Bellot said she aims to return in a year to see if any of her recommendations have been implemented.
Meanwhile, the tension between the city’s police force and the local Cree and Algonquin communities is already high because of allegations of sexual assault that were dismissed in November.
While it’s clear that this new study isn’t going to do anything to help heal that relationship, there’s hope if its recommendations are followed, improvement might follow.
“It falls on everyone, on all levels of government to help solve this problem,” Bellot said.