LONDON (TrustLaw) – Police in Canada’s northern British Columbia, far from protecting indigenous women and girls from violence, have abused and assaulted them, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Wednesday.
Some victims of violence interviewed by the U.S.-based rights group accused the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of violent behaviour and sexual assault, in a context of longstanding tension between the police and indigenous communities.
“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,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at HRW.
British Columbia is one of the provinces worst affected by violent attacks on indigenous women and girls and by the negligence of the police in tackling the problem, HRW said.
One woman told the rights group that in July last year, four police officers took her to a remote area, raped her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
Dozens of women and girls have been reported missing or found dead along Highway 16 - known as the “Highway of Tears” - since the late 1960’s, the report said.
Nationwide, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) documented 582 such cases between the 1960s and 2010, HRW said.
If women and girls in the general Canadian population had gone missing or been murdered at the same rate, Canada would have lost 18,000 members of its female population since the late 1970s, the NWAC has estimated.
LITTLE FAITH IN POLICE
Despite laws requiring that all reports of missing persons be investigated, some relatives of disappeared women and some service providers have criticised the lack of prompt investigations into such cases.
The HRW report said indigenous women had “little faith” that the police could offer them protection from violence in the community, having experienced mistreatment and abuse by the authorities themselves.
Women victims of violence who turn to the police for help have been blamed for the abuse themselves, or shamed over alcohol or substance use, according to testimonies gathered by researchers.
HRW also noted the “apparent apathy” of police officials towards violence and cases of indigenous women being reported missing, and the RCMP’s apparent failure to apply its progressive policies on combating violence against women to indigenous communities.
Fear of retaliation by the police and reluctance to engage with an organisation that is not perceived as subject to genuine accountability also fomented tension between the indigenous communities and the authorities, the report said.
One of the most striking points made by HRW was the fear expressed by women it interviewed, which it compared to that of women in post-conflict countries who had been subjected to abuses by security forces.