On July 27, Charles Esau from Waskaganish loaned the family car to his daughter Phyliss Esau and her boyfriend Nick Mowat so they could enjoy a holiday in Val-d’Or. After checking into the Hotel Continental after midnight, Mowat went to park the car in the back, but was interrupted by an unexpected encounter with local police officers.
“I guess [Nick] went through a stop sign or something just going to the back,” Esau told the Nation. “When he got out of the car, the police were very physical. He had a suspended license, but that’s not really an excuse. There were six of them. He was pretty upset that the police were manhandling him.”
After being woken by his daughter’s call at 1:30 am in Amos, where he was getting his other vehicle out of the shop, Charles told Phyliss to point her camera at the police. She said she didn’t hear them tell Mowat his rights before they took him away to the jailhouse.
“He did have a warrant out, but that’s not part of the story,” said Charles. “He had his own problems but after he had a job [at a mine in Washaw Sibi] he started to straighten his life out. He was driving without a licence. How would they find something like that out so fast and arrest him at the car? Racial profiling, I think.”
Mowat’s case was remanded to Amos, where he has reportedly been working in the detention centre for $4 per hour while Phyliss takes care of their two young children. Meanwhile, Charles was told by the court that his car has been impounded until October.
“Why are we the victims?” Charles complained. “Every time he’s supposed to have his case, they keep postponing it. It’s a very quick arrest and a slow process to hear his case. André Levasseur, the lawyer, has been avoiding me. I want protocols to get our vehicle back.”
Levasseur did not respond to the Nation‘s request for an update about the case.
Phyliss believes that the police began following them as soon as they entered Val-d’Or. Earlier in the day, she had stopped to pick up Mowat and give some fruit to his cousin at a local Subway before driving her father to Amos. They noticed the police observing them, including one officer Phyliss remembered from her time in the community three or four years earlier.
“It was like they were waiting for us to get in Val-d’Or,” Phyliss told the Nation. “It was the same cop who is always aggressive with Crees. One time he slammed a guy on the ground – I guess he was unconscious, and we never saw the guy again.”
As soon as they pulled into the hotel parking lot that night, Phyliss said the police blocked them in and aggressively asked for Mowat’s identification. As they twisted his wrist to apprehend him, Phyliss tried to embrace him, but was forcefully restrained by an officer.
“My bruise was showing the next day,” she recalled. “It was really inappropriate the way he touched me. That’s when Nick got upset for five seconds and didn’t want to cooperate, then this other cop comes and twists his elbow. [Nick] started screaming. They were hitting him on his backbone and on his ribs, and one cop was kneeing him on his leg – he had bruises all over.”
Mowat told Phyliss to call for help so she contacted her father by FaceTime and got some pictures of the officers. They refused her repeated requests for an explanation in English and within only a few minutes Mowat was shoved into the patrol car. As they tried to cover his mouth, he told Phyliss to run.
“I still feel offended, and I feel it’s very inappropriate what they did to him,” Phyliss asserted. “He has a hard time trying to call me. I can’t even go to work – it’s difficult to find a sitter so I have no choice but to stay home with my kids. They keep changing his court date, but Nick says he’s going to be finished September 20.”
A Sûreté du Québec media relations officer responded to the Nation’s request for information by stating that the case is now in court, therefore he is no longer authorized to discuss it. “With regard to allegations, each citizen can file a complaint with the Ethics Commissioner when there is a police intervention,” stated Sergeant Hugues Beaulieu. “Obviously I cannot comment on allegations.”
The Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions didn’t respond to requests for information.
Although Beaulieu didn’t provide clarification about why Charles’ vehicle had been impounded so long, according to the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) website, “peace officers” can seize and impound vehicles for 7, 30 or 90 days.
However, car owners like Charles who were not driving the vehicle can apply to have their vehicle released if they did not consent to the driver using it, weren’t aware of a lack of appropriate licence or could not have foreseen that a licence violation would occur.
“The big picture is it’s still the residential school syndrome coming from institutions in Quebec,” Charles explained. “The residential school syndrome is punishing the behaviour, but you don’t know the deeper roots of that behaviour. Why is there such a high rate of Indigenous people in the system? Where is the cultural sensitivity?”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter