Jean-Luc Vollant told Truth and Reconciliation Commission he remembers being sexually abused by a priest in Sept-Îles, Que.
MONTREAL—A former police officer charged with rape after a massive investigation into abuse of indigenous women by law enforcement officials in Quebec is a residential-school survivor who says he was sexually assaulted by a priest, the Star has learned.
Jean-Luc Vollant, a 65-year-old Innu man, is a former officer with a native police force who was charged last month after a probe of nearly 40 allegations from indigenous people who say they had been mistreated by police.
Vollant was among more than 30 current and former officers in Quebec who were the subject of the allegations. He was one of just two people to be charged with a criminal offence.
He faces three charges of rape, indecent assault on a female and sexual assault ― stemming from incidents that allegedly occurred between 1980 and 1986 in Schefferville, Que., a remote town near the border with Labrador that is home to a small, predominately Innu population.
Vollant has not yet appeared before a judge or entered a plea in the case that dates back more than 35 years. An initial court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 19, 2017 in Sept-Îles, Que.
“Maybe we can talk about it later, but not right now,” Vollant said when contacted by the Star this week at his home in the Innu community of Uashat-Maliotenam.
Though the details of the specific incident that led to the charges have not been revealed, the case against Vollant appears to have a level of complexity that has so far escaped the fierce political debate in the province over police relations with indigenous people.
A neutral observer who observed and reported on the police investigations submitted a reportthat suggested the root of the problem in the cases was systemic racism against First Nations people in Quebec.
Native leaders and political opposition parties say this issue can be addressed only through a judicial inquiry into police conduct — a demand that the Quebec government has so far rejected.
But without knowing the facts, experts say that Vollant’s case may raise questions about intergenerational trauma — a concept that suggests historical oppression and abusive or destructive behaviour is transmitted from one generation to the next.
On Jan. 23, 2013, the married father of five spoke at a public hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sept-Îles. The commission, which completed its work last year, examined the traumas suffered by indigenous children, their families and to First Nations communities by the residential school system.
Its final report found that forcing indigenous children to attend the schools was a key element in a policy designed to assimilate aboriginals, which the commissioners labelled an act of “cultural genocide.”
On the day of his testimony, a tearful Vollant told the hearing that he had memories of being inappropriately touched by a priest when he was about 10 years old.
“One night, I was woken up and taken by a priest. He took me in his room … Right away he pulled me toward him so that he could hold me in his arms,” Vollant testified, speaking in his native Innu-aimun language.
He said the specifics of the abuse that he suffered were locked away in his subconscious for most of his life, but that he began to wet the bed from the time of that incident until he was a teenager. He said he has also suffered through his life from paralyzing fear and anxiety.
The blockage in his memory cleared suddenly, several years ago, when Vollant was forced to undergo a colonoscopy, he testified.
“That’s when it came back to me . . . as if I was in a dream . . . . That’s when I saw the priest hurting me, putting it inside of me,” he said, without providing further explanation.
Vollant told the commission that even when he worked as a police officer for about a decade, he lived in fear.
“Every time the telephone rang . . . I was very anxious. I’m scared. I ask myself what is happening, is there a murder? What’s happening there? Is there a fight?” he said. “The word fear was always in my head. Always, always, always, always. Always in my life.”
In 2012, he was hired by a community agency that works on native fishery and environmental conservation issues. He was employed to co-ordinate training programs that are available to members of seven Innu communities in the region, according to an annual report.
The charges against Vollant are the most recent blow to the community of Uashat-Maliotenam, adjacent to Sept-Îles, and home to nearly 3,500 people along the rugged north coast of the St. Lawrence River.
In June, Chief Mike McKenzie, the elected head of the community, temporarily stepped down from his post after he was charged with sexual assault for alleged incidents involving a child under the age of 14 between 2000 and 2001. The case has not yet been tried in court and McKenzie returned to work in August after a two-month absence.
There was also a provincial coroner’s inquest in the community last summer into the death of five people from the community who died by suicide in 2015.
Three of those people were women who claimed that they had been sexually assaulted, leading friends and family to wonder whether these traumas might have played a role in their decision to end their lives, the inquest heard.
Vollant was not involved in any of the cases. But he was in the audience at the inquest, according to photographs posted to Twitter. News reports of the inquest said Vollant’s wife testified that she had provided assistance to a woman who had been assaulted. The victim later killed herself.
When the Star sought an interview with McKenzie about the charges against Vollant, a spokesperson declined on his behalf, saying: “We are in a process of healing within the community that is very heavy.”
In his testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Vollant said he considered himself a “survivor” of the residential school system, but had seen in his own life how behaviours he experienced at the residential school had been passed down to his children.
He said that as a father he had the habit of yelling at his children in an aggressive manner, bringing his face close to theirs. Vollant said that was what he was exposed to at the residential school and now he saw his children doing the same to their kids.
Normand D’Aragon, a Montreal psychologist who works closely with indigenous communities, explained that intergenerational trauma can result in victims perpetrating damaging behaviour to which they have been subjected.
It’s a term psychologists refer to as trauma re-enactment, in which victims will repeat the act as a way of subconsciously resolving their distress.
“Repeating the trauma can be the only way to deal with it or get rid of it,” D’Aragon said.