Ian Lafrenière inherits a perilous mission. Appointed Friday by the Prime Minister, François Legault, as Minister of Native Affairs, his right to make mistakes promises to be very limited.
Promoted in the wake of the atrocious death of Joyce Echaquan at Joliette hospital under a shower of racist insults, Ian Lafrenière is the first to know. He knows his stubborn ex-policeman image follows him.
Within the First Nations, voices, including those of several renowned women, are also rising to decry what they qualify as “provocation”.
At the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, Chief Ghislain Picard has become more diplomatic. Persistent tensions between him and the Prime Minister are however known.
In replacing Sylvie D’Amours at Native Affairs, Mr. Legault’s reaction to the revolting death of Joyce Echaquan, a young Attikamek woman, was nevertheless swift.
On the other hand, his repeated refusal to recognize the very existence of systemic racism against Aboriginals risks weakening the bridges that Ian Lafrenière says he wants to rebuild with the First Nations.
However, as ex-police officer as he is, Ian Lafrenière is above all a formidable communicator. Integral and skilful, he himself desired this ministry. So he has been thinking about the matter for a long time.
Even if he does not openly name the principle, it is therefore also because he is aware of the extreme damage caused by the persistence in the country, including in Quebec, of “systemic racism”. The very one which, since 1876, stems from the very racist Federal Indian Act.
That said, the new Minister Lafrenière will not work miracles. Faced with this heavily poisoned heritage, nobody expects it. The real question is much more concrete.
Will the Legault government be able or not to take the necessary steps to better combat the already well-documented racism against Aboriginals? Whether in the health network, in justice, at the DYP, etc.
Ian Lafrenière says he is ready to increase exchanges with the First Nations of Quebec. In particular, aboriginal women have huge grievances about their own security, including the police forces from which the new minister himself comes.
A lot of listening
To do this, he will have to go into the “field” often. Meet the various communities. Which, in times of a pandemic, will not be simple, but no less essential.
Just before his election in 2018, Ian Lafrenière was head of the SPVM’s Communications and Public Relations Division. As Minister of Native Affairs, his very first challenge will be one of communication. But above all, listen. Lots of listening.
If he succeeded in initiating and sustaining contact over the next few months, a major step forward would be taken for the future. Before building new bridges, establishing a climate of trust, even minimal, will be crucial.
Its Prime Minister will still have to give it all the latitude it needs to take concrete action when the time comes.
Crises tend to unravel or repair what we believed to be insoluble forever. Failure, anyway, is no longer an option.