An Innu community in Quebec is awaiting the results of an external investigation after two men say they were violently arrested by provincial police officers patrolling their territory.
In a press release, the Innu Council of Pessamit said they believe racial profiling drove Surete du Quebec (SQ) officers to detain two community members last weekend.
“We took charge of the file in hopes that members of our First Nation – or any First Nation in Quebec – don’t have to experience an event this dramatic,” Pessamit Councillor Jerome Bacon St-Onge told APTN News.
According to council, the incident occurred around 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30.
Two Innu men in their 50s, were driving on the traditional hunting territory known as Nitassinan when they were intercepted by police, according to Pessamit’s statement.
St-Onge, himself a former police officer, said the stand-off then became “Hollywood-like.”
“One patrol car blocked the vehicle in the front, another from the back,” he explained. “Verbal contact was established over a megaphone, just like in the movies.”
“Their firearms were pointed at these individuals, at these Innu men who were stopped, arrested, handcuffed, forced onto their knees onto the ground [and] detained in the police car.”
The council also alleges the officers brandished Tasers during the arrest, but it is unclear from their press release whether they were used.
An SQ representative declined APTN’s interview request, saying the case is now subject of an external investigation.
According to St-Onge, the men were released without charges after a full vehicle search.
St-Onge said the community is in regular contact with police officials in hopes of clarifying why on-duty officers approached with such a heavy hand.
He said the men in question remain traumatized by what they experienced, and are not ready to speak to media directly.
“I was a police officer for several years – I’ve done routine checks. Obviously there’s a preamble before drawing your service weapon. We also have to take precautions because we don’t want anything to happen – either to the police officer or to the civilian,” St-Onge explained.
“If they had run the vehicle’s plates first, they would’ve discovered, one, the registration was correct, and two, the license of the man who was driving the vehicle was correct – he had no priors. These are two individuals without a criminal history.
“Knowing that might’ve made a difference. It’s a troubling situation.”
APTN News has not spoken to the two men as of this posting.
The case is now on the desk of Quebec’s Bureau des Enquetes Independantes (BEI), the watchdog body called in to investigate when a civilian is injured or killed during a police intervention.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere – a former Montreal police officer – said he is following the case along with the province’s Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault.
“I am in contact with the Chief of the community of Pessamit, and one of its councillors,” Lafreniere said via Facebook post on Feb. 3.
“I was very happy to hear they are in contact with the SQ, and that there’s a good collaboration.”
In his own Facebook post, AFNQL Regional Chief Ghislain Picard said the incident prompts comparisons to the policing situation in the United States.
The Viens Commission final report, released in late 2019, concluded the Quebec’s public services are still influenced by a prominent systemic bias.
However, Premier Francois Legault – and his CAQ party government officials – have repeatedly refused to quality the province’s racism issue as “systemic.”
“In Quebec, the CAQ and the [Parti Quebecois] agree at least on one thing: systemic racism belongs to an ideology in the way the black community was treated in the south of the USA,” Picard wrote on February 3rd.
“The intervention described here stands as a reminder of images that flood the social networks, regularly, showing scenes of arrests of members of the black community just about everywhere in the USA,” he added.
The BEI’s report is expected in the coming weeks.