Quebec slow to improve public services for Indigenous people, says ombudsman

MONTREAL — The Quebec government has failed to implement most of the recommendations in a landmark report that found Indigenous people suffered systemic discrimination when accessing public services, the province’s ombudsman said Wednesday.

Quebec has fully implemented just 11 of the 142 recommendations made in 2019 by retired judge Jacques Viens, while another 34 are in progress, ombudsman Marc-Andre Dowd said.

But there have not been any “satisfactory outcomes” related to 96 recommendations, he found, while one still remains under analysis.

“Four years after the (Viens) Commission tabled its report, this is obviously below expectations,” Dowd told reporters in Val-d’Or, Que., as he presented his report on the implementation of those recommendations.

Dowd found that progress suffered because the province doesn’t have an overall strategy to address the recommendations, which touch on policing, correctional services, justice and youth protection, as well as health and social services.

“There were a lot of good initiatives, but they are piecemeal. A big missing part is a global strategy, a systematic strategy,” deputy ombudsman Claude Dussault told reporters.

Urgent problems remain with regard to youth protection, the rights of Indigenous women _ particularly in jails _ and access to housing and justice, according to the ombudsman’s report.

Dussault said youth protection requires significant work. “Clearly, youth protection was where the level of progress was the least satisfied,” he said.

The ombudsman’s report also found that the Quebec government has often made decisions about how it will implement recommendations before it consulted Indigenous communities.

Quebec needs to stop thinking about providing services for Indigenous communities and start providing services in collaboration with them, Dussault said. “The First Nations and the Inuit, they know what they need and we need to understand completely what their needs are and develop the services with them.”

While less than a third of the recommendations have been implemented, Dussault said there has been progress. “We have to understand that the reconciliation process is a long-term process,” he said. “It won’t happen tomorrow, but we have to keep focused on it and keep moving in the right direction.”

Ian Lafreniere, Quebec’s minister responsible for relations with First Nations and Inuit, said the ombudsman’s conclusions are clear, but he maintained that although there is still work to do, progress has been made.

He told reporters in Quebec City that the government has tried to work in collaboration with First Nations but didn’t succeed. Since the re-election of the Coalition Avenir Quebec government last fall, Lafreniere said, a new approach is being taken. “We are starting from scratch. Have changes been made? The answer is yes. Is it perfect? The answer is no.”

Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, said he agrees with the ombudsman that the lack of an overall strategy is a major problem.

“It’s a much more piecemeal approach that’s really targeted at the nation level. I’d call it bilateral with certain nations, even with certain communities. That’s where there’s an absence of cohesion and where it borders on improvisation,” he said in an interview.

Of the 64 recommendations regarding health services, social services and youth protection services, only 14 have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, the Assembly of First Nations said.

The Quebec government appointed Viens in December 2016 to lead an inquiry into the barriers that Indigenous Peoples face when they seek access to public services. His inquiry was called after Indigenous women in Val-d’Or, Que., accused police of sexual assault and other forms of abuse.

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