In 2010 the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) had documented 582 cases of missing or murdered indigenous females in Canada. These cases happened between the 1960s to 2010.
Thirty-nine percent of the cases happened after 2000, at a rate of approximately 20 a year.
The NWAC estimates that since the late 1970s 18,000 Canadian females have been lost. British Columbia has been the hardest hit. Human Rights Watch released a study today about the failure of the RCMP in dealing with violence against indigenous women and girls. In several of the case studies the law enforcement agency has been accused of mistreatment of these women in the area known as the Highway of Tears, a 724-kilometer stretch of road which has become infamous for the dozens of women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered in its vicinity.
The Human Rights Watch report "Those Who Take Us Away" documented violations by the RCMP in 10 north British Columbia towns of females for five months conducting 87 interviews from a total of 50 females in the area ranging in age from 15 to late 60s. Community service providers were also interviewed. Seven current and former officers of the E Division of the RCMP were also interviewed. During the study, completed by two researchers (one Canadian and one from the United States) the group heard allegations of rape and sexual assault by RCMP officers including of a woman who was threatened with death after an alleged rape in July 2012.
"Due to concern for the privacy and security of interviewees, Human Rights Watch did not inform the RCMP of our intention to conduct the research in advance or approach detachments for interviews during the field research."
Because of the abuses that women have allegedly experienced in these areas and of fears of police harassment some women have limited their time in public areas where the RCMP is likely to be.
Researchers found that for many females in the area there is very little faith that the police will protect them.
A community service provider is quoted in the Human Rights Watch report saying, “The most apparent thing to me is the lack of safety women feel. A lot of women, especially First Nations women we see never feel safe approaching the RCMP because of the injustices they’ve experienced … The system is really failing women.”
The report also alleges that though the RCMP has been progressive when dealing with violence in domestic relationships in the general population it has not applied those policies in indigenous communities.
The researchers have made several recommendations for the government of Canada including establishing a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls before the end 0f 2013 and ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.
Several of the recommendations are pointed directly to the RCMP including ensure that properly trained officers are stationed at detachments in the north for enough time to develop strong relationships with the community. Human Rights Watch also suggested that the RCMP collect and make publicly available data that includes an ethnicity variable on violence against indigenous women and girls in cooperation with indigenous community organizations and the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains(NCMPUR).
RCMP Chief Superintendent Janice Armstrong released a statement addressing the report on Tuesday, indicating that Human Rights Watch has yet to bring the allegations forward to police for an investigation.
The RCMP takes the allegations enclosed in the Human Rights Watch Report very seriously.
The unimaginable loss and pain felt by families and loved ones of missing and murdered persons is also felt across our communities. The RCMP looks forward to working with our government and non-government partners, as well the communities we serve to provide Canadians with the professional and accountable police service they expect and deserve.
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. 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.
British Columbians know and have seen that police officers are being held accountable for their actions and are being charged and even dismissed for clearly breaching their authorities and our expectations.
Since a final copy of the completed report was only provided to the RCMP on Tuesday February 12, 2013, we will need to take the necessary time to review it in its entirety in order to provide any additional information, facts or context.