The failure of law enforcement authorities to deal effectively with the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada is just one element of the dysfunctional relationship between the Canadian police and indigenous communities. This report addresses the relationship between the RCMP and indigenous women and girls in northern BC and documents not only how indigenous women and girls are under-protected by the police but also how some have been the objects of outright police abuse. The report further documents the shortcomings of available oversight mechanisms designed to provide accountability for police misconduct and failure to protect.
In ten towns across the north, Human Rights Watch documented RCMP violations of the rights of indigenous women and girls: young girls 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; and women injured due to excessive force used during arrest.
Human Rights Watch heard disturbing allegations of rape and sexual assault by RCMP officers, including from a woman who described how in July 2012 police officers took her outside of town, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. Human Rights Watch strongly urges an independent civilian-led investigation of these allegations with the aim of achieving criminal accountability for the alleged crimes. Human Rights Watch would eagerly cooperate with such an investigation to the extent we are able to without compromising the safety and privacy of victims.
For many indigenous women and girls interviewed for this report, abuses and other indignities visited on them by the police have come to define their relationship with law enforcement. At times the physical abuse was accompanied by verbal racist or sexist abuse. Concerns about police harassment led some women – including respected community leaders – to limit their time in public places where they might come into contact with officers. The situations documented in this report – such as a girl restrained with handcuffs tight enough to break her skin, detainees who had food thrown at them in their cells, a detainee whose need for medical treatment was ignored – raise serious concerns about tactics used in policing of indigenous communities in BC and about the police's regard for the wellbeing and dignity of indigenous women and girls.
Incidents of police abuse of indigenous women and girls are compounded by the widely perceived failure of the police to protect women and girls from violence. Not surprisingly, indigenous women and girls report having little faith that police forces responsible for mistreatment and abuse can offer them protection when they face violence in the wider community. As a community service provider told Human Rights Watch, "The most apparent thing to me is the lack of safety women feel. A lot of women, especially First Nations women we see, never feel safe approaching the RCMP because of the injustices they've experienced…The system is really failing women."