Provincial police officers continue to ignore appeals to remove a symbolic red band from their uniforms which Indigenous witnesses have told two separate inquiries into their treatment they perceive as "intimidation and provocation."
Officers in Val-d'Or, in northwestern Quebec, started wearing the bands two years ago, after eight colleagues were suspended following a Radio-Canada investigation into the mistreatment of Indigenous women.
Police officers attached the bands, inscribed with "144" — the number of the Val-d'Or detachment — to the top of their Sûreté du Québec vests, just above their name tags.
Michèle Audette, an Innu commissioner on the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), told CBC News that Sûreté du Québec officers are "spreading division" by wearing the bands.
The former president of Quebec Native Women, who grew up in Schefferville and in Uashat-Maliotenam, said continuing to wear the bands is inappropriate and does nothing to encourage Indigenous women to have confidence in police.
"They don't want to call 911, or they don't want to get involved with the police because the trust is not there anymore," said Audette. "[Either] it's never been there, or it's broken."
Nearly three months ago, at MMIWG hearings in Regina on June 28, Audette told SQ Capt. Paul Charbonneau, who is in charge of discipline and legal services in the provincial police service, that the wearing of the red bands was not helping to promote reconciliation and that he should speak to his superiors about banning them.
Provincial judge also deplores bands
Justice Jacques Viens, the retired judge presiding over Quebec's separate inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous people, raised the same issue at hearings in Quebec City last week.
"I have hoped that at some point this practice would be abandoned," said Viens.
He said witnesses have told him the bands are perceived as intimidation and provocation, especially when officers wear them while visiting First Nations communities.
Viens was responding to a comment by David Coderre, the lawyer representing the provincial police union at the provincial inquiry.
Questioning the current president of Quebec Native Women, Coderre said the red band was "never created to support the alleged treatment of Indigenous women, but to contest the administrative measures against those officers."
'Somebody should be putting their foot down'
The Sûreté du Québec has declined to be interviewed about the practice while the two inquiries continue their work.
"Something has to be done about it," said Ghislain Picard, the Quebec regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, when asked about the bands by CBC News.
"It's very offensive. It's really provocation."
Picard said he plans to raise the issue with the provincial security minister as soon as the next government is in place.
Picard said he's been told the bands are the "initiative of a few individuals," but he finds it "absurd" that the provincial police union and top brass at Sûreté du Québec haven't stepped in.
"These officers are accountable to someone, and somebody should be putting their foot down," said Picard.