Quebec Premier Francois Legault has followed one of the calls to action in the Viens report and apologized to First Nations and Inuit peoples for long-standing discrimination in their dealings with the province.
Legault made the formal public apology today at a sitting of the provincial legislature and said the government is ready to act on recommendations contained in the report issued this week.
The apology was the first of 142 calls to action laid out by the Viens commissioner Jacques Viens, which concluded that the province’s Indigenous communities suffered systemic discrimination.
Legault called the findings in the report devastating and pledged that the Quebec government will work with Indigenous leaders to implement the recommendations.
The Quebec government has convened a meeting of First Nations and Inuit leaders on Oct. 17 to discuss further action.
The apology came as many Indigenous chiefs and leaders looked on from the visitors’ gallery of the national assembly’s legislative chamber.
“I offer Quebec’s First Nations and Inuit members the most sincere apology from all of Quebec,” Legault said. “The state of Quebec has failed in its duty to you, and it asks you today for forgiveness.”
But on Monday, the day the report was released, the head of the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) said it was “too weak,” and didn’t go far enough in recommending the changes needed.
Fast forward to Wednesday and the apology, Ghislain Picard said in a statement that while the AFNQL recognizes the gesture of reconciliation, “First Nations are looking towards the future while worrying that [Quebec] does not understand the urgency of taking immediate action to correct the current situation.”
“[Legault] may attempt to make amends for the past, but I especially wish that he would do so for today, when the Government of Quebec, on this very day, stood before the court and continued to affirm that [the province] has never recognized the right to self-determination of Fist Nations, and that it refuses to recognize that First Nations police services are essential services,” Picard explained.
For two and a half years, Viens led the inquiry that was charged with looking into the relationship between Indigenous peoples in Quebec and some of the province’s public services.
The inquiry was called after a number of First Nations women in Val d’Or, a mining city 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal, complained about physical and sexual abuse by members of the province’s police force, the Sûreté du Québec.
The 520 page report contains 142 calls to action. Not just for police, but for other public services such as health, justice and social services.
The recommendations include more money for housing, implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and making services more friendly for non-French speaking Indigenous people.
Viens says the calls to action are meant to combat what he describes as systemic racism in the province.
“In a developed society like ours, this finding is unacceptable,” he said.
Picard said the report confirms what First Nations people have been saying for a long time.
He welcomed the report but worries about accountability around its recommendations.
-with files from Lindsay Richardson, Tom Fennario and The Canadian Press