Two years after the Viens Commission

·3 min read

Two years ago, a public inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous people accessing public services in Quebec issued 142 calls to action to counter the systemic discrimination found apparent.

The Viens Commission report published on September 30, 2019, recognized First Nations and Inuit people experience grave and systematic discrimination when seeking assistance from certain public service providers in Quebec, including police forces.

The searing 488-page report listed 142 calls to action addressed to the provincial government. On Friday, September 17, the government announced that to date there had been 68 recommendations either completed or in progress.

“There are recommendations that we have started to respond to that I don’t think we will ever finish – for example, the fight against homelessness is one of these projects that will take a lifetime because it is a societal project,” said minister Responsible for Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière in an interview with The Eastern Door.

Out of the $200 million budget of the J’ai Espoir action plan put forth to tackle the list of recommendations, $125 million has either already been spent or allocated. The remaining $75 million will be allotted before the spring, based on the suggestion of band council chiefs.

While there are 142 recommendations in the report, the Quebec government stated seven are directed at the federal government.

Since numbers don’t always speak for themselves, Lafrenière emphasized completed projects, which include the creation of Indigenous student residences in Trois-Rivières, Sept-Îles and a third city that will soon be announced.

“We opted to build large apartments, as big as 6 1⁄2, to accommodate families moving together,” he explained. “Because that’s what we’ve been asked to do – so we’ve gone with larger apartments, a daycare, a four-year-old kindergarten and community space.”

“That’s a good example of ‘the machine’ adapting to First Nations, as opposed to asking First Nations to adapt to us,” added the minister.

Over the course of the following months, the minister announced the three priorities that the government would focus on: youth protection, education and the well-being of Indigenous women.

The areas being prioritized were established by taking into consideration different inquiries, including the Laurent Commission, along with what Lafrenière expressed he heard from Onkwehón:we while touring communities in the summer.

Although Quebec Native Women (QNW) recognized progress has been made to address some calls to action, its organizers deplored that there were no mentions of police abuse during Friday’s conference – especially given that the Viens Commission was initiated following reports of police abuse from Indigenous women in Val d’Or.

In a statement released after the conference, QNW further underlined a need to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as an urgency to offer cultural training for healthcare workers which, namely, need to consider the systematic discrimination faced by Onkwehón:we.

“QNW is pleased to note that several actions have been taken in response to several recommendations and our organization is fully committed to working with the government towards reconciliation between Indigenous Peoples and the government,” stated QNW president, Viviane Michel. “However, in order to do so, it is essential that the government recognize the existence of systemic racism and discrimination in Quebec.”

While questions are being raised about the effectiveness of the government in addressing all recommendations, Lafrenière emphasized that numbers should not replace the significance of the issues affecting communities and individuals.

“There’s a lot to do and we’ll continue to do it but I don’t want us to give ourselves a pat on the back while we say we’re happy with such and such a percentage,” said the minister. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us but we will do what we can, even if some answers will take years to address.”

Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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