The Human Rights Watch report on the allegations of RCMP abuses, criminal assaults and misconduct of aboriginal women and girls in northern British Columbia is compelling and disturbing. In 10 towns, the organization interviewed 42 women and eight girls who told stories of physical, sexual and verbal assaults by officers. Some allegations date back many years, others are recent. HRW's findings came out of a wider inquiry into the disappearances and murders of women and girls along the notorious Highway of Tears, the stretch of Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
The human-rights group is joining the call by the native associations for an unwieldy national inquiry into the violence against aboriginal women and girls, arising from the 600-odd cases of missing and murdered women across Canada.
In the specifics of the serious allegations against RCMP in northern British Columbia, however, HRW makes the legitimate demand for an immediate investigation by a civilian-led body.
The RCMP has asked that specifics of the allegations be turned over so it can investigate, but that is inappropriate. There is widely held distrust, HRW noted, of the force by the indigenous people. Some of the abuses catalogued in the report released last week spoke of assaults that occurred after women and girls called police for help.
For years, there have been allegations against police across Canada by advocacy groups collecting details and data of murdered and missing native women. This new report, however, is forceful in the mass of anecdotes from a confined geographical area. The group also spoke to seven current and former RCMP officers.
The call for a national inquiry is not uniformly supported among advocates and victims' families. The decision by Parliament to call an-all party review, with hearings across Canada, can prove useful if it reports in a timely manner on the circumstances of the missing and murdered, and police responses to calls for help.
The Harper government referred the HRW report to the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP, but the group cautioned that the commission's process is to rely first on the RCMP to collect evidence.
The allegations of criminal conduct and abuse of police power in northern B.C. must be investigated by a civilian body with sufficient resources and authority. If the complaints commission cannot handle the probe itself, an out-of-province civilian commission must be asked to do the job.