Last week Quebec Premier François Legault appointed former Montreal police officer Ian Lafrenière to head the province’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. This follows the ouster of Sylvie D’Amours, criticized for her failure to address discrimination facing Indigenous people in the wake of the death of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven, who died in a Joliette hospital while medical staff stood by mocking her as her condition slowly deteriorated.
In appointing Lafrenière Legault remarked, ”I think one of the main challenges is to rebuild trust between Indigenous nations and police officers, and who better than a police officer, who understands that problem, to solve it?”
This isn’t just a question of the fox guarding the hen house. The fox has been appointed to the hen house within one year of having been essentially instructed to never come within the vicinity of the hen house again.
As the brother of a murdered woman in Quebec, I know full well how the police looks after its own in the province. Navigating the confusing and byzantine channels of police process in Quebec can be an exercise in futility and confusion, a reductio ad absurdum pursuit that often folds back on itself.
A little over a year ago retired Quebec Superior Court justice Jacques Viens’s presented his 520-page report that concluded it was “”impossible to deny” Indigenous people in Quebec are victims of “systemic discrimination””. Citing 142 calls to action, the Viens report was the culminating event after an inquiry was launched in 2016 into allegations of police misconduct against Indigenous women in Val-d’Or, Quebec.
Specifically, the allegations targeted the Quebec provincial police, the Surete du Quebec and extended over a period of at least two decades.
Among other things, officers were accused of performing “Starlight Tours”, a practice of routinely picking up women who appeared to be intoxicated, driving them out of town and leaving them to walk home in the cold. Some women alleged they were physically assaulted or made to perform sex acts by the officers.
Now we have Legault’s recommendation that the best medicine to cure the ailment of systemic racism is to put yet another police officer in charge.
Lafrenière is no stranger to controversy. Once viewed as a superstar among the Montreal police – the agency itself has been accused of racial profiling and discrimination against indigenous women – he was abruptly dismissed as the head of the SPVM’s communications department back in 2016 and “reassigned”. It seemed like the end for Lafrenière, with one police source commenting, “It’s certainly not a decision for the good of his career”. This was in the wake of what seem like endless management crises within the Montreal police when then Chief Philippe Pichet was asked to step aside and replaced on an interim basis by Surete du Quebec Director, Martin Prud’homme.
But Prud’homme was yet another fox guarding yet another hen house.
By 2019 Prud’homme was suspended as head of the SQ after an “allegation related to criminal offences.” Yesterday Prud’homme appeared on Radio Canada whingeing “I was treated like a criminal”.
Now officer Ian Lafrenière has risen from the flames, and the whole mess has collapsed upon itself like a no-rise soufflé, with the knowledge that Prud’homme testified at the Viens inquiry. In remarks that appear stunningly naive or an outright lie Prud’homme told the commission, “until May 2015, I didn’t have any information or details that led me to think there was a major problem in Val-d’Or.” When asked about Starlight Tours, if this was a “phenomenon that is well-known within the SQ?” Prud’homme responded that he had never heard of such a practice before.
Foxes guarding hen houses indeed. It’s an endless game of pass the bad apple.