Friday, February 15, 2013

Canada: Harper’s Comments Ignore Victims’ Fear of Reprisal

Highway 16, sometimes referred to as “the Highway of Tears” in recognition of the women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered in its vicinity, in northern British Columbia. July 2012.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Ensure Accountability for Police Misconduct, Indigenous Women’s Safety

(Vancouver) – Comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP) on February 14, 2013, fail to address the core issue of a lack of security that prevents indigenous women and girls from filing complaints of police abuse, Human Rights Watch said today.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons that Human Rights Watch and others should “just get on and do it”-- provide detailed information to the police so that they can investigate allegations of police mistreatment described in a Human Rights Watch report on police mistreatment of indigenous women and girls in northern British Columbia. His comment ignores the lack of meaningful accountability for police misconduct and fear of police retaliation that prevents indigenous women and girls from reporting mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said.

“Human Rights Watch stands by the victims who asked us not to provide identifying information about their claims of police mistreatment because they are terrified of police retaliation,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If the government is committed to accountable policing, it should address the flaws in the policing system that leave indigenous women and girls feeling they have nowhere to turn for a safe, effective investigation of their complaints.”

In the 89-page report,“Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada,” Human Rights Watch documented both ongoing police failures to protect indigenous women and girls in the north from violence and violent behavior by police officers against women and girls. Police failures and abuses add to longstanding tensions between the RMCP and indigenous communities in the region, Human Rights Watch said.

Before the report was released, the Prime Minister’s office declined a request for a meeting with Human Rights Watch. Three other relevant ministers also failed to agree to Human Rights Watch’s requests for meetings. Human Rights Watch met with the RCMP before the release of the report and is scheduled to meet with police “E” Division, on February 15. An overview of the issues raised by the research in northern British Columbia was provided to the RCMP in September 2012.

The report’s researchers are meeting with the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia on February 14. The office, which became operational in September, provides independent civilian investigation of serious allegations of police misconduct involving death or certain serious bodily injuries. However, rape and sexual abuse are excluded from its mandate -- an unacceptable, discriminatory omission on the part of the provincial legislature, Human Rights Watch said.

“We would like to be able to share the full details of the allegations of abuse we uncovered with the IIO, but the office is hamstrung by its limited mandate,” Rhoad said. “You can’t expect indigenous women and girls to come forward when some of the most egregious crimes against them have been excluded from the one existing institution that offers a meaningful, safe way to bring complaints.”