Police talks between Quebec and the First Nations community are going nowhere


“These are just words,” says the leader of Winneway. “They leave us at the mercy of the bureaucracy.… I find that disrespectful and very neglectful.”

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Discussions between the Long Point First Nation and the Quebec government on the issue of maintaining order in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue community of Winneway came to nothing on Monday, leading the leader of the indigenous community to accuse the province to be “disrespectful and very careless”.

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Chief Steeve Mathias publicly denounced last week the fact that his community had not had a local police force for 15 years, and that the Sûreté du Québec can take “up to two hours” to respond to an emergency call. .

Prior to the meeting, government officials said “they have a plan and the government has been working very hard over the past few months,” Mathias said. However, once these officials introduced themselves, “they just served us leftovers.”

According to Mathias, Quebec officials have verbally proposed to conduct “a feasibility study” on the issue of a local police force while not having engaged in any discussion with the federal government.

They promised to send Mathias “a letter at some point in the summer” detailing their plan.

“These are just words,” complained Mathias. “They leave us at the mercy of the bureaucracy. … I find this disrespectful and very careless.

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Mathias said he believed either a mediator should be hired to resolve the issue or that Quebec’s Minister of Public Security, Geneviève Guilbault, should intervene personally.

There was no immediate response Tuesday from the Department of Public Security. Last week, a spokesperson for Guilbeault said a plan was underway to establish an indigenous police force in the area and that “the case has not gone through a crack, it is being worked on. “.

Winneway, a community of about 400 inhabitants 80 kilometers south of Rouyn-Noranda, has been served by the Sûreté du Québec since 2006, when the local police force was abolished for lack of funding.

Mathias stressed last week that he did not question the competence of the SQ, but for him it is “a question of availability”.

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The SQ detachment in Ville-Marie, which serves the region, is over an hour by car. It “doesn’t have enough personnel, just two patrol cars and a huge area to cover,” Mathias said.

The chief said he wanted “constant coverage of the community” to protect the lives of members.

He cites an incident three weeks ago where “a young man in crisis” fired a gun “right outside the community school” at around 7pm. Without police, civilians had to remove children from the neighborhood, prevent people from using the streets and confront the man to convince him to give up his gun. “These people are not trained” and feared for their safety, Mathias said. Fortunately, the situation was resolved without violence before the arrival of the SQ.

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Besides crisis management, a police force is also needed to prevent crime, Mathias said.

“The simple fact of being present in the community is already an act of prevention.

Mathias said he had proposed several solutions to the Quebec government, to no avail.

“They don’t tell us it’s not good or that it’s unrealistic,” he said, “but our letters go unanswered.”

During a video conference on March 17 with Prime Minister François Legault, he declared: “The Prime Minister has undertaken to intervene personally if the situation is not resolved within two months.

Almost four months later, there has been no progress outside of Monday’s meeting.

“We have serious questions about the political will of the government,” Mathias said.

Even with sufficient funds, he said, setting up a police station could take time. Meanwhile, Long Point First Nation proposes that “other neighboring Anishinaabe communities” also cover Winneway. The Kebaowek First Nation, which is a two-hour drive from Winneway, said it was open to collaboration, but would need “necessary resources” from government.

This report was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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