RCMP mistreatment alleged in Human Rights Watch report on northern B.C.

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      A police psychologist has said that he’s not surprised by a shocking new report chronicling the RCMP’s failure to protect indigenous women and girls in northern B.C.

      The 89-page document by Human Rights Watch stated that in five of 10 communities along Highway 97 and Highway 16—B.C.’s notorious “Highway of Tears”—investigators heard aboriginal women’s allegations of rape and sexual assault by officers. The New York–based organization also received 15 reports of RCMP mistreatment of women in cells and on the street, ranging from “routine rough handling during arrest to an outright beating in cells”.

      Mike Webster told the Georgia Straight by phone that officers are responsible for their behaviour, but noted that they are also under a great deal of stress because of low staffing levels and a “toxic workplace”. He also claimed that uniformed officers work in a “culture of fear”, for which he holds management responsible.

      “I’m not surprised that Human Rights Watch would find this kind of thing because I know the health of the members—and the members are not healthy because they are working for an unhealthy organization,” Webster said. “I just hope that the public doesn’t point their fingers directly at the young men and women who wear the uniform every day because their hearts are in the right place. They want to do the right thing. They want to serve the community. But sometimes, they are under such pressure they’re not at their best. And they make these mistakes.”

      Former Mountie Rob Creasser—who speaks for those hoping to form a union within the RCMP—told the Straight by phone that there needs to be an investigation. But he also said that nobody who spoke to Human Rights Watch has filed a formal complaint of sexual abuse against officers, and so far, the public has only heard one side of the story.

      “Now having said that, if any of these complaints are founded, it’s disturbing,” Creasser added. “But that’s a big ‘if’.”

      Human Rights Watch, which prepared the report with the help of the B.C.–based human-rights group Justice for Girls, has called for a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls across the country, including along the Highway of Tears.

      “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 February 13 news release. “Where can they turn for help when the police are known to be unresponsive and, in some cases, abusive.”

      The Human Rights Watch report was based on interviews with 50 women and girls and another 37 family members of missing or murdered women. Rhoad revealed that women who called police for help have, at times, been “blamed for the abuse, shamed over alcohol or substance use, and have found themselves at risk of arrest” when acting in self-defence. One mother reported that her 15-year-old daughter’s arm was broken by a police officer when he was called to deal with an argument she was having with an abusive boyfriend.

      The Human Rights Watch report came out nearly two years after the B.C. Civil Liberties Association released a 104-page document called Small Town Justice: A Report on the RCMP in Northern and Rural British Columbia. After conducting public meetings in 14 communities, the BCCLA cited numerous shortcomings in the RCMP’s approach to aboriginal people, most notably in Terrace, where it stated: “Allegations of racism, excessive force, abuse of authority, reckless and negligent conduct and illegal searches were repeated many times.”

      Small Town Justice raised concerns about male Mounties strip-searching female prisoners. This issue was also highlighted in the Human Rights Watch report, which recommended that the RCMP “prohibit cross-gender strip searches under any circumstances”.

      “The RCMP continues to ignore credible reports from recognized human rights organizations about these communities at their peril,” BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson said in a February 13 news release. “From the force’s failure to stop the tragedy of missing girls and women along the highway of tears, to allegations of sexual assault by police, and Indigenous teenage girls being Tasered, punched and having arms broken in interactions with officers—the RCMP must take action to restore public confidence among these communities.”

      In a statement issued to the media, the RCMP declared that it takes the Human Rights Watch report allegations “very seriously”.

      “In a written response to a series of questions posed by Human Rights Watch in fall 2012, the RCMP emphasized the seriousness of allegations of police misconduct and that these allegations must be brought forward for proper investigation,” the Mounties said. “We also explained that complaints could be made to the RCMP directly, to the Commission of Public Complaints against the RCMP or to other independent investigative bodies without fear of retaliation. Unfortunately, five months later and none of these allegations have been brought forward for 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.”

      The human-rights group, however, claimed that women they spoke to are too frightened to file reports.

      “Human Rights Watch researchers were struck when carrying out this research by the high levels of fear of police among the women interviewed, levels of fear that Human Rights Watch normally finds in communities in post-conflict or post-transition countries such as Iraq where security forces have played an integral role in state abuses and enforcement of authoritarian policies,” the report stated. “The palpable fear of the police was accompanied with a notable matter of fact manner when mentioning mistreatment by police, reflecting a normalized expectation that if one was an indigenous woman or girl police mistreatment is to be anticipated.”



      Rick Eway

      Feb 13, 2013 at 4:38pm

      Nice to see that Mr. Webster, who has no credibility, wading in on this allegation. There has been nothing brought forward, with the exception of rumour and innuendo. Yet, the media, amongst others have a need to jump all over this STORY and treat it as though it has any basis of truth. Frig, it's a shame and clear a true reflection upon the media and police haters who feel that they have the right and agenda to crucify an organization without a grain of substance, or truth. Sorry, it's going to take a lot more than unsubstantiated rumours before the public believe this drivel.


      Feb 13, 2013 at 6:52pm

      Webster has considerable credibility when it comes to the stressors that some police officers suffer. Those stressors can include the pressures of the job, a toxic workplace, lousy management, staffing levels and overwork. Webster isn't saying the police did any of the things alleged. He is saying that he's not surprised at some of the allegations made and at the apparently poor relationship between the RCMP and indigenous women AND that some or all of the stressors mentioned could be to blame. As for "media and police haters" - well I'm neither but I am retired RCMP and I am not surprised that allegations of this kind are being made. I'm also not surprised that these women, whether or not their allegations are valid, are reluctant to formally complain given that the RCMP continues to investigate their own.

      Rumours and Inuendo?

      Feb 13, 2013 at 7:32pm

      Allegations are made but nobody has come forward? I think that without a victim (or victims) that this is just another anti-police rumour mill. We have seen far too many of these spun by the media.

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 13, 2013 at 8:51pm


      "Far too many of these"? Name them, right here. Or you are as guilty of rumour-mongering as you are charging others.
      Just sayin'.


      Feb 13, 2013 at 8:52pm

      This is utterly ridiculous! Here we go again, the media spreading unsubstantiated stories based on unknown victims who have not come forward to make specific allegations so that a proper investigation can be conducted which could either be proven as factual or refuted. It is easy for anyone to make accusations without any evidence and the Civil Liberties spreading rumours but without giving the RCMP an opportunity to answer properly to these charges. Right now as it stands these accusations are simply none factual and without basis until these victims/witnesses come forward.

      Stirling West

      Feb 13, 2013 at 9:56pm

      Perhaps an investigation by a non-police entity would encourage those who allege they have been aggrieved to come forward and speak up. This would at least move toward substantiating or refuting some of the allegations. As it stands at present the Force is neither able to respond to unspecified allegations nor to take any action to resolve matters. It stands accused, and will remain that way without external intervention. If there is nothing to hide, then open the doors and windows so the fresh air and sunlight will cleanse the whole thing.


      Feb 13, 2013 at 10:03pm

      Where there is smoke, there is fire. This will soon turn into a raging forest fire.
      It's time the RCMP quit trying to point all the fingers in the other direction.


      Feb 13, 2013 at 11:33pm

      There's no doubt that these allegations will go nowhere until these women find the courage to come forward. And it will take courage both because of the fear of pointing the finger at the RCMP while living in small communities policed by the RCMP and because of the weight of public attention (and possibly public denunciation) and loss of privacy they will face.

      However, the attention the media is paying to these so-far unsubstantiated claims will serve a vital purpose when and if these women pursue their claims: it will help to ensure that the RCMP conducts any investigations knowing that the media, and therefore the public, is aware and paying attention and will hopefully ensure diligent, timely and unbiased investigations.


      Feb 14, 2013 at 8:24am

      Most northern comunities are policed by natives ,from the RCMP as whites are not allowed on reserves.The reserves are so isolated and far apart that the RCMP would have to hire 1 officer per reserve to keep up,and station him there.Has anyone heard of stretcing and makeing up stories to blame somone else for their mistaks.