Assault of Inuk woman highlights legal barriers for Montreal’s homeless

“We have to adapt the legal process”

The Open Door drop-in shelter, which serves many homeless Inuit living in Montreal, recently relocated to a new facility on Park Ave. (GOOGLE STREET VIEW IMAGE)

By Sarah Rogers

A Montreal man has been arrested and charged in connection with the assault of a pregnant Inuk woman who has been living homeless in the city.

The alleged assault happened late on Dec. 5, while the Nunavik woman in her mid-twenties slept in an alleyway off Park Ave. The same suspect allegedly threatened her again the following day.

She later reported the assault to an intervention worker at the Open Door shelter, a daytime, drop-in centre in downtown Montreal that she frequented.

Douglas André appeared in court Dec. 14 on one charge of assault and two charges of making threats.

Staff there, who wish to protect the victim’s identity, say the woman was injured, though not seriously.

An anonymous donor has since purchased a plane ticket for the woman, who is still in the first trimester of her pregnancy, and she is scheduled to fly home to her Ungava coast community on Wednesday.

While staff at the Montreal shelter said they’re relieved to see the suspect arrested and charged, they say that’s extremely rare, in an environment where Inuit women face serious risks of violence.

The Open Door’s director, David Chapman, said since 2017, 19 clients have reported assaults to shelter staff. Ninety per cent of them have been Inuit, he said.

“What we’ve noted is that, of those 19, really only one case has made it near the courts,” Chapman said.

“Part of the problem is that the way sexual assault cases are treated in the court are not conducive to the homeless population. A 10-month wait for court can feel like an eternity for a homeless woman.”

That’s why Chapman, along with other advocates for homeless Inuit in Montreal, has met with Montreal police to ask them to better adapt that process.

Rarely, and often prompted by media coverage, the police will investigate reports of assault on homeless people, but only after the victim has agreed to come into the station to be interviewed. That happens in English or French—often the second language if the victim is from Nunavik.

Chapman said shelter clients are often afraid that the police will pick them up on outstanding charges or unpaid tickets.

So perpetrators rarely face consequences for their actions, Chapman said, and frequently re-offend.

“We have to adapt the legal process,” Chapman said. “The cost is that homeless woman after homeless woman is getting raped.”

Staff from the Open Door, along with staff at Chez Doris—a women’s day shelter in Montreal that serves a large Inuit population—have sat down with police to make recommendations on how the force could better support Inuit who have been victims of assault and other crimes.

Chapman said they’ve asked Montreal police to conduct interviews in a more neutral space where victims feel safe. Officers sometimes did that at the Open Door’s previous location in Westmount, but not since the shelter relocated to Park Ave. last month.

He’s also asked the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal to have an Inuk liaison, translator or investigator working on cases that involve Inuit, particularly those where the victim does not speak English or French.

“If they could have one person the victim could identify with, it would make a huge difference,” Chapman said.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Sad on

    How sad , still inuit move to the big city with no real plans

    • Posted by Inuk on

      They try to have a better life in the big city I understand inuit people I been there and now I did everything all by myself I didn’t had help now I have a place to stay and having little family and no I don’t do drugs I used to drink a lot but now I’m busy with my kids

      • Posted by Bob Mesher on

        “Inuit people” is redundant.

  2. Posted by David on

    Street people of all colours will struggle to get justice for reasons not in this article.

    Our system is based on the principle we have the right to a trial and to face our accusers, this is where justice falls apart for street people. The truth is most street people struggle with alcohol/drugs and or mental illness, or they wouldn’t be on the street. This makes them them very poor witnesses as the memories cannot always be trusted. As well, they rarely show up for court to testify because their lives are so chaotic, making them very unreliable.

    People criticize police, but there has to be evidence that will stand up in court, or charges won’t be laid. That is how the system works. So the truth is, street people will always be on the outside of justice.

  3. Posted by Inuk on

    Don’t judge inuit people try they best to move to big city they tired of family up in nunavik they are try to have a new life and yet some of them get addicted to drugs I wish I could help them all but I have a little family to taking care of
    My biggest wish is that hope people don’t show any drugs to inuit people

  4. Posted by James Fenn on

    Homeless women on the streets is a very sad state of our society. First, it shouldn’t happen, but they should be treated with the respect they deserve

  5. Posted by Aislinn on

    This story broke my heart. The thought of a young, pregnant woman living out on the streets is deplorable. I hope she is getting the help she needs. We, as a community, should band together to stop this from happening. We should take care of these vulnerable people and protect them from these inhuman predators.

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