Human Rights Watch alleges Aboriginal girls and women were abused by police
An international human rights organization is calling on the federal government to launch a national inquiry into claims from Aboriginal women of abuse and threats by RCMP officers in northern British Columbia.
Human Rights Watch, has brought worldwide attention to victims of torture and abuse in places like Syria and Burma, says the eyes of the world should also be on northern B.C.
Two researchers — one from Canada and one from the U.S. — spent more than a month last summer in the province’s north, visiting ten communities between Prince George to Prince Rupert and hearing accounts from Aboriginal women of alleged mistreatment at the hands of police.
The researchers interviewed 50 Aboriginal women and girls, plus family members and service providers.
They heard stories of police pepper-spraying and using Tasers on young Aboriginal girls, and of women being strip-searched by male officers, said the New York-based researcher, Meghan Rhoad.
“It was very moving to sit across from these women and girls and hear them tell their stories,” Rhoad told CBC News.
Woman claims life threatened
The report suggests some of the accounts of harm done to women and girls appear to be the result of poor policing tactics, over aggressive policing and insensitivity to victims.
Human Rights watch documented eight incidents of police physically assaulting or using "questionable" force against girls under 18.
The report also contains troubling and graphic allegations of physical and sexual abuse, including from a woman, identified as homeless, who describes how police took her outside of town and raped her.
Rhoad said the woman told her the officers then, "threatened that if I told anybody they would take me out to the mountains and kill me and make it look like an accident."
Highway of Tears
The First Nation communities the research team visited are linked by Highway 16, which has been dubbed the Highway of Tears because more than 18 girls and young women have disappeared there in recent decades.
Human Rights Watch said none of the complainants are named in the report because they feared retribution. The alleged perpetrators also are not named.
Despite the RCMP's repeated requests, the group did not release the allegations to the Mounties until this week, CBC News has learned.
The disturbing report does bear some important disclaimers.
"Human Rights Watch does not contend that this information proves a pattern of routine systemic abuse," it says. "But when such incidents take place in the context of an already deeply fractured relationship with the police, they have a particularly harmful, negative impact."
The report also notes that, "the testimonies that Human Rights Watch gathered do not establish the prevalence of abuse."