A public apology is being demanded from the Québec government as “a minimal and unavoidable gesture” after what is being described as a “botched” investigation by the provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec.
The Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) has decided not to lay charges against the driver of a van involved in a 1977 accident that led to the drowning deaths of five young Atikamekw from Manawan, reads a statement from the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.
The van had skidded off the road into the Milieu River near Saint-Michel-des-Saints. The driver survived. The CBC has reported that the man had admitted to drinking 18 beers the day of the crash, but did not believe he was impaired at the time of the accident.
It was with deep disappointment and intense pain that the families and relatives of the victims received the decision, reads the statement.
The DPCP stated there was insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to pursue charges. The coroner at the time had determined that there was evidence of impaired driving. A CBC report in 2016 helped launch a new investigation of the incident.
Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard was in support of Chief Jean-Roch Ottawa of the community of Manawan and Grand Chief Constant Awashish of the Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw who are calling for the public apology, because, they believe in all likelihood, the investigation carried out at the time was botched.
“It is beyond belief to have to demand such apologies,” Picard said. “They should have been presented to the families long ago. Members of our nations must be treated by the Sûreté du Québec with respect and dignity like any other citizens of Quebec.”
The Sûreté du Québec and First Nations in Quebec have a long and trouble history. For the health and safety of our nations, a relationship of trust must be restored with law enforcement, said the AFNQL chief.