National News

Ex-cop tapped as new Indigenous affairs minister as Legault hopes to reset relations

By The Canadian Press

Published 10:39 PDT, Fri October 9, 2020

QUEBEC — The Quebec government has tapped a former police officer turned politician to oversee Indigenous affairs as Premier Francois Legault looks to reset frayed relations with First Nations leaders.

Ian Lafreniere, a former Montreal police officer, is taking over from Sylvie D'Amours, who was shuffled out after several weeks on the hot seat.

Relations between Indigenous communities and the ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec government have been strained since the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who was subjected to slurs by staff at the hospital in Joliette, Que., before her death.

Legault told reporters today it was important to make a change, adding the department's longtime deputy minister was also being replaced.

Indigenous leaders have called on Legault to recognize the existence of systemic racism in the province, but he has repeatedly rejected the term.

The new cabinet appointee stuck to the premier's line and said systemic racism doesn't exist in the province.

"I recognize that there is racism. I recognize that there is profiling. I recognize that there is discrimination," Lafreniere told reporters. "I also recognize that, at present, the term 'systemic racism' is not universally accepted."

Lafreniere said that what people want to see is concrete action, and Legault said he is confident change can come despite disagreement over the term systemic racism.

"I'm optimistic that the different representatives of the different nations will accept to discuss, negotiate, fight against racism without us having to change our position on systemic racism," Legault said.

On Thursday, the premier refused to express support for D'Amours and lamented the slow process of bringing in recommendations from a commission that investigated the mistreatment of Indigenous people by the provincial public service.

The Quebec inquiry overseen by retired judge Jacques Viens issued a damning report last year that called on the province to apologize to First Nations and Inuit peoples for systemic discrimination.

The Viens commission laid out 142 recommendations for the Quebec government, but a year later, many of them haven't been implemented.

Lafreniere wouldn't tip his hand on how he would act on those recommendations, adding his first step is to speak with community leaders.

"The most thing important thing is to work together on that, not to impose my view," Lafreniere said.

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