'A one-sided partnership': Advocates decry new police Indigenous sensitivity program

'A one-sided partnership': Advocates decry new police Indigenous sensitivity program

Montreal police officers are set to receive more sensitivity training in the wake of an incident involving a missing Inuk woman, but some Indigenous advocates in Montreal are wondering whether their years-long efforts with police are making a difference.

Police released Mina Aculiak, 48, from a holding cell in an industrial part of Saint-Laurent at midnight July 27 with only a bus ticket. She was visibly injured and spoke little French or English. 

After she was released, she went missing for six days before being found safe by an off-duty police officer.

Maggie Putulik, the director of an lodging facility in Dorval for Inuit called Ullivik, told CBC's Daybreak she's been told that come September, additional sensitivity training will be provided to officers across the city.

Hers will be the third sensitivity training program developed for the police service since 2015.

That year, Montreal police agreed to have its officers take a four-hour sensitivity training in consultation with local Indigenous groups. At the time, the agreement was called "historic."

But earlier this year, the SPVM shelved that program, which was meticulously created and re-worked by the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, in favour of creating its own.

And at least two of the community members who were involved in developing the initial program weren't consulted about the new one.

Details obtained through access to information request

CBC News has obtained a copy of the outline of the new sensitivity program through an access to information request.

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter, was instrumental in creating the original sensitivity program and frequently works with police in the city — but didn't know what was in the program until CBC News showed her the outline.

"It kind of makes me want to throw my hands up in the air," she said, saying that police have kept her and the Aboriginal Network in the dark about the training.

"It's a one-sided partnership."

Montreal police refused to do an interview for this story, even though they initially agreed to talk about the criticism of the new training.

The communications officer would not provide a reason why the request was denied.

No local content in new sensitivity training

According to the documents obtained by CBC, the new training plan covers:

- Issues including the social and political history of First Nations and Inuit before and after colonization.

- The effects of residential schools.

- The current "psychosocial perspective" of First Nations.

- Inuit living conditions and the impact that has on crime and homelessness.

But a significant difference between the new and old programs is that there appears to be little content specific to Montreal.

"They don't understand the real realities that we face," said Nakuset.

In June, CBC News reported that the SPVM hired Pierre Picard, a member of the Huron Wendat Nation, to create the new sensitivity training program.

Picard has done similar work for the provincial police and other government organizations.

At the time, police said Picard's training is "better suited" to the SPVM's "operational needs," and that officers "responded better to this training."

Information about Inuit issues 'missing'

Stephen Puskas, an Inuk and advocate living in Montreal, drafted the parts of the original sensitivity program that had to do with Inuit.

After reading the contents of the new one, he noted that Picard is an expert in First Nations issues, not Inuit issues, pointing out Montreal has one of the largest urban Inuit populations in Canada.

"It seems like it's missing a lot of information. It's very much centered around First Nations people and culture and history, not Inuit. It referred to Indigenous people as nations, First Nations, when Inuit are not First Nations," he said.

"We don't have reserves, we're not part of the Indian Act. It seemed like there was a real lack of Inuit knowledge and history in the cultural awareness manual."

Nakuset and Puskas both said they weren't informed by police when their original program was suddenly scrapped.

It came shortly after a training session where Nakuset says officers started giggling during the blanket exercise.

The blanket exercise is supposed to teach the history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis while simultaneously instilling a sense of empathy for the historical injustices endured by Indigenous people.

Nakuset described hearing officers laugh as a low point.