‘White judge, white lawyer’: Quebec inquiry into discrimination lacks Indigenous voices, critics say

It does appear that the inquiry did make serious efforts to include Indigenous voices:

The Quebec inquiry tasked with investigating discrimination is being criticized for its own lack of representation, as it examines how Indigenous people are treated by provincial services.

The Viens commission — named after its chair, Jacques Viens — was created by the Quebec government in 2016  in response to public pressure after prosecutors decided not to lay charges against six provincial police officers accused of sexually abusing Indigenous women in Val-d’Or, a city about 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

When Premier Philippe Couillard announced the inquiry, he said there was a “need to act rapidly to restore the relationship of trust broken since the events in Val-d’Or.”

The inquiry, which is wrapping up its 16th week of hearings, has been mandated to look into treatment of Indigenous people by six specific government institutions: police services, corrections, legal services, the health system, social services and youth protection.

One Indigenous advocate who testified before the commission last month said she was struck by the absence of Indigenous people heading up the inquiry.

“You’re walking into this sterile environment that is not welcoming,” said Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal who goes by just the one name. “You have this white judge and then you have a white lawyer on your side who’s proceeding.”

“There are some people [with the commission] that are Indigenous. [But] I don’t remember seeing them there. They’re not sitting in front.”

There are 18 Indigenous staffers — roughly 21 per cent of the commission’s members — who serve on various teams, including Aboriginal relations, research, pscyhosocial support, wellness and communications.

None of them are part of the legal department.

Indigenous lawyers were sought

Inquiry head Viens is also not Indigenous, though the retired Quebec Superior Court judge spent 25 years of his career in the judiciary district of Abitibi, which encompasses Val-d’Or, and also practised law in Cree and Inuit communities.

Commission chief counsel Christian Leblanc said attempts were made to recruit Indigenous lawyers, but many were not willing to relocate to Val-d’Or, the base of operations for the commission.

Nakuset, a vocal Indigenous advocate in Quebec and the director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, testified before the commission in February. (Commission on relations between Indigenous peoples and specific public services in Quebec)

He said it was difficult to find experienced lawyers — Indigenous or non-Indigenous — who were willing to interrupt their lives and careers for the duration of the inquiry.

“You have to understand, to know that we did offer jobs and opportunities to Indigenous lawyers to come work with us,” he said.

Leblanc said he had serious conversations with at least four Indigenous lawyers about joining the inquiry, but they all declined.

He said his team was careful to only hire legal counsel with experience working in Indigenous communities or on Indigenous issues.

Leblanc also underscored the role that Indigenous commission staff play in decision-making.

“In the best world, if we could have had 50 per cent, it would have been a good statistic. But what’s important is not the quantity, it’s the quality. It’s the role those people play in the work we do.”

He said the inquiry also makes every effort to ensure the hearings are held in a welcoming and culturally sensitive atmosphere.

“We try to have an audience room that is as different as it can be from a court hearing room,” he said. “We set the table in a circle. Everybody sits.

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“We have the decor. We try to make it Aboriginal.”

That’s not good enough for Nakuset. She said she can’t understand why the Quebec government wouldn’t name an Indigenous judge to head the commission.

“They have a connection and an understanding of our realities,” she said. “It’s always easier to see someone in power who has lived a similar experience.”

via ‘White judge, white lawyer’: Quebec inquiry into discrimination lacks Indigenous voices, critics say – Montreal – CBC News

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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