B.C. RCMP accused of abusing aboriginal women, but investigating the report will be difficult

Matthew Coutts
Daily BrewFebruary 13, 2013

An international human rights organization has released a damning report on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's failure to protect aboriginal women in British Columbia, even alleging police officers were responsible for compounding the problem.

But while the RCMP says it is taking the Human Rights Watch report, titled "Those Who Take Us Away," seriously, there is little more it can do to investigate its contents.

RCMP Chief Supt. Janice Armstrong released a statement on Wednesday that said it was difficult to investigate the report because, although the force has been made aware of the allegations, none of the complainants can be identified.

"It is impossible to deal with such public and serious complaints when we have no method to determine who the victims or the accused are," Armstrong’s statement read, according to the Vancouver Sun.

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One thing that should be pointed out: Human Rights Watch is an international organization. At the same time as it accused Canada's national police force of abusing a female minority group, it accused Israel of violating war laws by bombing Gaza. It railed against Saudi Arabia's justice system.

Human Rights Watch takes on the big fish. Whether this lends credence to the accusations in its report is up to the readers' discretion.

“The threat of domestic and random violence on one side, and mistreatment by RCMP officers on the other, leaves indigenous women in a constant state of insecurity,” Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement “Where can they turn for help when the police are known to be unresponsive and, in some cases, abusive.”

On the other hand, the group itself admits that while the allegations raise serious concerns about police misconduct, they do not prove a "pattern of routine systematic abuse."

The provincial government has already launched its own investigation into the issue, leaving Human Rights Watch to recommend further measures, such as an expansion of that investigation's scope.

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The report measures in at 89 pages. It contains interviews from more than 40 women and girls who described abusive treatment by RCMP officers, including physical and sexual assault along the Highway of Tears.

The Highway of Tears is a long stretch of highway in northern B.C. that has become infamous over the number of women that have been reported missing or found dead in the vicinity.

Some of the allegations made in the report simply suggest officers were less than helpful, such as refusing to investigate a disappearance or dismissing the issue as a cause of substance abuse problems.

Other cases are far more serious than even that. Several claimed they were assaulted by officers, and a 12-year-old girl said a police dog attacked her. One woman, whose real name was not used, alleged that four officers raped her and threatened to kill her if she reported the incident.

Human Rights Watch says the report, "documents both ongoing police failures to protect indigenous women and girls in the north from violence and violent behavior by police officers against women and girls."

All this truly leaves the RCMP is a difficult place. By the report’s own admission, these are serious allegations, but they do not add up to a pattern of systematic abuse.

The system itself can be, and is, subjected to review. But there is no way for the incidents raised in the report to be investigated.