Montreal police didn't do enough to ensure safety of Inuk woman, says advocate

If Montreal police had called Maggie Putulik last Friday night to pick up an Inuk woman who had been detained for being intoxicated and disorderly, she would have taken her in without question.

As director of an Inuit lod​g​ing facility called Ullivik — which provides a link between health institutions in Montreal and Nunavik — Putulik says she is there to help people in those kinds of situations.

But police didn't call. Instead they released the woman, Mina Iquasiak Aculiak, into an industrial area of Saint-Laurent at midnight.

Aculiak, who is from the remote northern town of Umiujaq in Nunavik, Que., speaks neither French nor English and was recovering from serious injuries.

After that, she went missing for almost a week, last seen by police on the Friday of her release and not found again until Thursday, Aug. 2nd, when she was located by an off-duty police officer who had seen her photo.

On Friday, ​Putulik told CBC Montreal's Daybreak that police should have taken steps to ensure Aculiak's safety, instead of sending her out into the night alone with only a bus pass.

"They should have gone a little bit further than releasing her, put a little bit more effort in finding out where this lady should have been brought to or who she was under the responsibility of," said Putulik, adding that the woman was wearing a bracelet from the health centre where she had been staying.

Putulik said that releasing the woman to fend for herself could have opened her up to all kinds of dangerous situations.

"You're releasing a very vulnerable woman into an industrial area where she could have been kidnapped or taken advantage of," she said. "It's very scary to think about all that."

Woman hit by police car months ago

Before being taken into police custody, Aculiak had been staying at the Gingras-Lindsay-de-Montréal​ rehabilitation centre in Côte-des-Neiges.

She was recovering there from serious injuries she sustained after being hit by a police car in Umiujaq.

Despite criticism earlier this week from Indigenous advocates and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, a police spokesperson said the force did nothing wrong.

"We are police officers. We aren't doctors, we aren't paramedics," Insp. André Durocher told Radio-Canada Thursday evening. 

"We transported the person who was violent and intoxicated. We drove her to our detention centre and when she sobered up, we had no more cause to detain her."​

Putulik told CBC that all levels of the Montreal police department should be aware of the services available to vulnerable patients who come from rural communities to Montreal for treatment.

She said her organization, which is based in Dorval, has worked hard to build relationships with local police officers, which has led to close collaboration when it comes to incidents involving Inuit people.

"The Station 5 police officers who work with us have become true partners," she said of the West Island station near her organization and with which it works closely.

"[They] will go out of their way and will give our clients a ride in the dark, making sure that our clients return back to Ullivik."

Putulik says one good thing to have come of Aculiak's situation is that the sensitivity training she gave to the Station 5 officers will be provided to the entire police force as of September.

She says the city and an SPVM aboriginal liaison officer have signed on.

'Exceptional' measure

For its part, the health authority (CIUSSS) that oversees the rehabilitation centre where Aculiak was recovering said it is highly "exceptional" that personnel from the centre would call the police on one of its patients.

"We don't generally call the police," said Jean Nicolas Aubé, spokesperson for the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal. "If we judge that she's not safe ... we'll call 911."

He said administrators are working with Montreal police to "find out what happened," seeing that Aculiak wasn't brought back to the rehabilitation centre after she sobered up.

"We never want these kinds of situations to happen," he said, adding that client safety is a priority.

Aculiak is scheduled to meet today with a liaison officer from the Montreal police.