Prosecutors defend decision not to charge cops in alleged sex assaults in Val-d’Or
It was an emotionally draining morning for Indigenous leaders in Val-d’Or who wanted an explanation for why provincial prosecutors had decided not to lay any charges against police officers accused of sexually assaulting a number of Indigenous women.
Last fall, an explosive report by Radio-Canada program Enquête revealed allegations of abuse levelled at Quebec police officers by 12 women, prompting the Quebec government to task the Montreal police with investigating police misconduct in the town, as well as other parts of northern Quebec.
Of the 37 allegations of abuse made by 28 people who came forward during the investigation, charges were laid in only two cases, outside of Val-d’Or, authorities announced on Thursday.
Speaking with reporters after meeting with Indigenous leaders on Friday morning, Val-d’Or’s Mayor Pierre Corbeil called once again for an independent inquiry into the allegations — a request the Quebec government has repeatedly refused.
As the mayor was speaking, Jimmy Papatie, former chief of the Kitchisakik community, south of Val-d’Or interjected.
“I don’t believe in the justice system in Val-d’Or,” he said. “How do you want us to live next to your city … when nothing changes.”
In a lengthy press conference on Friday, Crown officials explained that they chose not to press charges against the police officers who served in Val-d’Or because they didn’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that criminal acts had been committed.
Charges were laid against two retired officers, Alain Juneau and Jean-Luc Vollant, who served in Schefferville, Que, however. Vollant is facing two counts of sexual assault based on allegations from the 1980s, while Juneau is charged with sexual assault and assault using a weapon in the 1990s. The two are scheduled to appear in court in January.
Alexandrew Dalmau, director of the Crown prosecutor’s office, explained that after receiving investigation reports from police, they didn’t find that there was sufficient evidence to secure convictions. If there are systematic problems, like issues between police and the Indigenous community, it is not the job of the Crown prosecutor to identify and expose them, he said, but another agency’s.
“We have to be clear that the fact that charges are not being laid does mean the event did not take place,” said Crown prosecutor Sylvain Petitclerc. “It simply means… the burden on Crown is very high. We have to show that the suspect is guilty is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and in the cases we received, unfortunately, we don’t have enough evidence to show that.”
According to the Crown, in 10 of the cases, there wasn’t sufficient evidence that a criminal act was committed. In one case, the suspect was dead. And in three of the cases, the allegation had been made by a third party and when police approached the alleged victim, he or she denied the abuse happening.
The Val-D’Or Native Friendship Centre, in a press release issued Thursday, said they’d be helping the women to seek “other legal recourse” with the help of Montreal-based law firm BLG.
“We trusted the Canadian justice system and took part with good will in this process of a police investigation of police officers. It had the results we saw today,” said the director of the centre, Édith Cloutier. “Aboriginal women have fallen victim yet again to this system, which has failed to protect them. It is shameful.”
Cover: Photo by Mario Beauregard/The Canadian Press