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PM asks group to share info on alleged abuse by RCMP officers

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OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper is calling on the group Human Rights Watch to share information with police about allegations of abuse by RCMP officers against aboriginal women in British Columbia.

Harper also announced the government has asked the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to look into the allegations raised in the report released Wednesday by the respected New York-based rights watchdog.

"If Human Rights Watch, the Liberal party or anyone else is aware of serious allegations involving criminal activity, they should give that information to the appropriate police so that they can investigate it," Harper told the House of Commons in response to a question by interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae.

"Just get on and do it."

The report accuses RCMP officers of abusing aboriginal women and girls in northern B.C., including one allegation of rape.

The alleged incidents were uncovered as part of a broader investigation into charges of systemic neglect of missing and murdered aboriginal women along B.C.'s Highway 16, nicknamed the "Highway of Tears."

The Liberals and NDP joined the Assembly of First Nations in pushing the government to adopt the core recommendation of the report -- that the federal and B.C. governments participate in a national commission of inquiry into the matter.

"We must make all efforts to ensure our citizens are protected, and that includes action by all parties -- governments, police, citizens and families," said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo.

"The stories shared in this report are heart-wrenching and absolutely appalling, particularly given this is only a small sample of the conditions and experiences of indigenous women, girls and families across our territories."

The RCMP wants to get to the bottom of abuse allegations against its officers, but Human Rights Watch isn't helping police to investigate, RCMP Chief Supt. Janice Armstrong said in a statement.

None of the complainants has come forward since the organization approached the Mounties about the allegations five months ago, so police haven't been able to investigate further, she said.

"These allegations must be brought forward for proper investigation," Armstrong said, noting the force takes the allegations very seriously.

"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."

Rae called for the criminal allegations to be referred to an outside police force, because the RCMP should not be expected to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by its own members.

Human Rights Watch undertook the investigation last year after a Vancouver-based agency approached it in 2011 complaining authorities in Canada were not doing enough to address the problem.

Researchers spent five weeks in 10 northern B.C. towns last summer and conducted 87 interviews with 42 indigenous women and eight indigenous girls from age 15 to 60.

The most serious allegation involved a woman who told researchers she was raped and threatened with death by four RCMP officers after she was abused in a remote location.

Other allegations include: young girls being pepper-sprayed and shocked with a Taser; a 12-year-old girl being attacked by a police dog; a 17-year-old girl being repeatedly punched by an officer; women strip-searched by male officers; and women injured by excessive force during their arrests.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 A11

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