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Aboriginal women target of RCMP abuse: report

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen is calling for the formation of a Parliamentary Committee to investigate scalding allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment of Aboriginal females by northern B.C. RCMP officers.

The accusations were outlined in an 89-page report released last week by the New York-based organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The report is very disturbing, and has some very serious allegations,” said Cullen. “Our proposal is to form a parliamentary committee and spend a year digging into this… [because of] the government’s refusal to create a judicial investigation.”

HRW uncovered the allegations during an investigation into the missing and murdered women along the so-called Highway of Tears.

In its 89-page report, Those Who Take us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, HRW claims the RCMP has grossly failed to protect Aboriginal females from both violent situations and violent behaviour by its own officers, including instances of abusive policing, excessive use of force against girls, strip searches of women by male officers, and physical and sexual assault.

Furthermore, the report says women who call the police for help have been blamed for the abuse, shamed over alcohol or substance use and have found themselves at risk of arrest for actions taken in self defence.

Fifty Aboriginal women and girls were interviewed for the report, in addition to 37 community leaders and families of murdered and missing women in 10 communities.

The identities and locations of those interviewed were not released due to the alleged victims’ fear of reprisals, said HRW.

The authors of the report said this fear was comparable to what they’ve witnessed in post-conflict countries, where security forces have played an integral role in the enforcement of authoritarian policies.

Surrey-based private investigator, Ray Michalko, has self-financed his own investigation into cases of missing and murdered women in the North since 2006. The former RCMP officer told The Northern View rumours of abuses by the RCMP are rampant, but rarely substantiated. However, the high level of distrust among Aboriginals toward the police causes great difficulty in any investigation.

“That’s always been a problem, and I think that’s why a lot of these Highway of Tears cases have not been solved. I can think of a couple cases, at least one for certain, where people know things but they’re afraid to come forward. They’re afraid of the RCMP.”

HRW’s allegations include instances of young girls being pepper-sprayed and tasered; a 12-year-old girl attacked by a police dog; a 17-year-old punched repeatedly by an officer who had been called to help her; women strip-searched by male officers; women injured due to excessive force used during arrest; and one instance of rape in 2012 when a woman claims four police officers took her outside of town, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

RCMP Chief Supt. Janice Armstrong said the police force wants to get to the bottom of the allegations, but since the human rights group approached the RCMP five months ago, none of the alleged victims have come forward, prohibiting any kind of investigation.

“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,” she said.

HWR is calling for an independent civilian-led investigation.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked HRW to share its information with police and approached the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to look into the allegations. He also urged anyone with information on the matter to contact police, a request Cullen found laughable.

“It’s almost counterintuitive,” he said. “Aside from community, the police really want a different way of investigating. In order to have an effective police force, we need to have one that has the confidence of the community, and you can’t have community confidence with how serious complaints are [currently] dealt with. The Harper government is telling people with a problem with the police to go to the police.”

Calls to the Prince Rupert RCMP detachment were directed to provincial headquarters, but as of  Monday those calls requesting interviews had not been returned.

~By Quinn Bender

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