xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) (February 15, 2017) – The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action and Justice for Girls responded this morning to the report of the Public Interest Investigation regarding RCMP policing in northern British Columbia.
The investigation was launched in 2013 by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, and responded to allegations in the 2013 report of Human Rights Watch “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia”, and the BCCLA’s 2011 report “Small Town Justice: A Report on the the RCMP in northern and rural British Columbia”.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip stated: “This investigation has revealed serious failures on the part of RCMP members and supervisors, across northern BC, including huge problems in the way that the RCMP deal with investigations of missing persons including women and girls. We are deeply disappointed that this report completely avoids any examination of allegations of systemic racism against Indigenous people by the police in northern British Columbia. This is a tragic fact of life that First Nations people have to live with every day, many of whom have their rights violated by police repeatedly. The Human Rights Watch report that prompted this investigation made scathing allegations of racism, neglect and mistreatment by police towards Indigenous women and girls in particular, and this investigation has failed to deal with these issues that are gripping our communities and that create a lack of trust between our communities and the police. If the complaints commission, and the RCMP itself, genuinely want to improve relationships with First Nations people, there is a great deal more work to do. The recommendations in this report, while they may help to improve some police practices, will not fix the massive problem of systemic racism that our people experience daily and have had to endure ever since the RCMP started policing our lands and peoples.”
Farida Deif, Canada Director of Human Rights Watch stated: “While the Commission’s investigation confirms many of the policing problems Human Rights Watch documented, the report falls short in addressing policing failures in Indigenous communities. Indigenous women and girls told us that the RCMP frequently blamed them for the abuse they suffered, shamed them over alcohol or substance use, or threatened to arrest them for trying to protect themselves from domestic violence. But the Commission’s report only ‘found room for improvement’ in the RCMP’s response to domestic violence, ignoring widespread evidence of systemic racism and sexism. While Human Rights Watch documented serious allegations of abusive policing, including excessive use of force against girls, strip searches by male officers, and physical and sexual abuse, the Commission claims that it could not find evidence of ‘systemic misconduct by RCMP members in northern British Columbia.’ Given the serious policing shortcomings the Commission highlighted, including failures to properly document missing persons investigations or appropriately conduct body and strip searches, this raises serious questions about the Commission’s threshold for systemic misconduct. The report is an important first step, but the Commission’s new office in British Columbia should not shy away from tackling systemic problems with the RCMP’s policing of Indigenous communities head on.”
Annabel Webb of Justice for Girls stated: “The report is a clear and detailed indictment of RCMP policing in Northern B.C., echoing what many of us have been pointing to for years. It is unfortunate, however that the Commission didn’t address the underlying reasons for these policing failures and abuses—systemic racism and sexism within the RCMP that defines their colonial relationship with Indigenous women and girls. Let’s not forget that a key impetus for this report was the courageous testimony of Indigenous girls and women exposing serious abuses and failures of the RCMP in Northern B.C.. When the report talks about unjustified and undocumented strip searches and use of force, or failures to properly respond to domestic violence and missing persons reports, I think of the many Indigenous teenage girls I spoke to in the North who suffered those indignities and abuses by police, but had no way to hold the RCMP accountable.”
Josh Paterson, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, stated: “The RCMP’s routine failure to meet even the most basic administrative and procedural requirements is highly discrediting and calls for urgent attention. This report confirms that the RCMP in northern BC has failed to adequately record reasons for using force, failed to properly document missing persons investigations, failed to deal appropriately with personal searches and strip searches and failed to ensure that domestic violence response is done appropriately. The RCMP needs to work hard to respond to the disturbing findings in this report, and we hope the investigation’s findings and recommendations will help them to do that. At the same time, this report says almost nothing about the issue of systemic racism. While the report mentions that it heard some allegations about discrimination, it is troubling that the Commission did not investigate those allegations or make any conclusions. Now that the Commission has established full-time investigators here in British Columbia, partly in response to these findings, we expect it to devote serious attention to systemic racism and discriminatory treatment by the RCMP and to follow up to ensure that the RCMP fixes the serious problems that this investigation has confirmed.”
Shelagh Day, Chair, Human Rights Committee, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, stated: “The report is damning; it confirms the failures in policing identified by Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. However, the report does not name the discrimination, racism and sexism that lies at the root of these failures. It is the hope of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) that the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will pick up where this report leaves off. Superintendent Paulson’s assurances that policing failures will be put right is not enough.”