Without specifics, the Human Rights Watch report on the treatment of aboriginal women by the RCMP has the potential to cause more harm than good to all concerned.
The New York-based rights watchdog released a report this week that contains, among other things, numerous allegations that police in northern B.C. abused or mistreated aboriginal women. The alleged abuses range from handcuffs put on too tightly to physical and sexual abuse of native women and girls by RCMP officers.
Human Rights Watch investigators spent five weeks last summer in northern B.C. towns conducting 87 interviews with aboriginal girls and women. Meghan Rhoad, the report’s lead researcher, says she wants police to be held accountable.
And so they should be. Criminal charges should be laid where warranted; attitudes should be changed, if necessary; and if officers are found unsuitable for police work, they should be discharged, at the least.
But those steps are impossible unless complainants come forward with names, dates and other details. The watchdog group says the women won’t come forward because they fear retaliation, but that threat should be diminished now that the issue is in the public eye.
It’s common knowledge that there’s a historic disconnect between First Nations and the RCMP. There are legitimate issues that need to be addressed. However, if progress is to be made, people must step forward with information that can be used in an investigation.
Chief Superintendent Janice Armstrong says the RCMP take the allegations seriously, but aren’t being helped by Human Rights Watch, which passed the allegations to the force five months ago.
“Unfortunately, five months later and none of these allegations have been brought forward for investigation,” said Armstrong. “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.”
Samer Muscati of Human Rights Watch says the women involved asked researchers not to identify them for fear of police retaliation.
So what can the RCMP — or any other agency — do? An investigation involves interviewing those involved, taking statements, finding corroborating information. Until that can be done, the accusations float around.
Meanwhile, the wrongs heard by Human Rights Watch go uncorrected and police in the region, the majority of whom serve diligently and honourably, are all tarred with the same brush.
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