Investigation Has Begun Regarding Policing in Northern British Columbia

Lynsey Kitching

RCMP treatment of aboriginal women in Northern BC has become the focus of an investigation spearheaded by Interim Chair of the Commission for Public Complaint (CPC) against the RCMP.

In the wake of the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry, conducted by Wally Oppal in December, First Nations and Human Rights Watch submitted complaints and a report to the CPC.

Mr. Ian McPhail, Q.C. acting chair for the commission says in a statement, “As Interim Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (Commission), I am initiating a complaint and public interest investigation into the conduct of RCMP members involved in carrying out policing duties in northern British Columbia,” the statement continues, “I am satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for me to initiate this complaint, following the concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report of February 13, 2013, entitled Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada.

The HRW report states, “The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) had documented 582 such [murder] cases nationally. Many happened between the 1960s and the 1990s, but 39 percent occurred after 2000, or about 20 a year. If women and girls in the general Canadian population had gone missing or been murdered at the same rate, NWAC estimates the country would have lost 18,000 Canadian women and girls since the late 1970s. The province of British Columbia has been particularly badly affected by violence against indigenous women and girls and by the failure of Canadian law enforcement authorities to deal with the phenomenon.”

The commission will be examining RCMP members conduct relating to the policing of public intoxication, the incidence of cross-gender police searches, the handling of missing person’s reports, the handling of domestic violence reports, the use of force and the handling of files involving youth.

The HRW report says, “The high rates of violence against indigenous women and girls have drawn widespread expressions of concern from national and international human rights authorities, which have repeatedly called for Canada to address the problem. But these calls for action have not produced sufficient change and indigenous women and girls continue to go missing or be murdered in unacceptably large numbers.”

In undertaking its public interest investigation, the Commission will conduct meetings and interviews with interested stakeholders and will assess either each incident arising during a specific, current time period, or a random sample of instances identified within that time period in order to make its findings and recommendations in respect of the systemic issues laid out above.

The release from the commission states, “While the Commission’s intent is to make findings and recommendations of general application, the Commission is cognizant that the potential exists that specific complaints from individuals will arise during the course of the public interest investigation. If such complaints arise, they will be handled by the Commission as separate public complaints, and/or notified to the appropriate criminal process. The Commission will not, in the course of this public interest investigation, make a determination in respect of individual cases.

Member conduct is to be assessed in accordance with criteria, including whether the conduct of RCMP members responsible for identified files was consistent with the applicable policies, guidelines, training and legislation; whether RCMP members responsible for identified files discharged their duties in a thorough and impartial manner; and whether the conduct of RCMP members responsible for identified files was consistent with section 37 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act.

The Commission will also examine whether existing RCMP policies, procedures, training and guidelines in respect of the identified areas are adequate.

Though it may seem as though much of the information offered in the report by the HRW is dated, the reason for this given is, according to the HRW, “…in 2010 the government stopped funding NWAC’s data initiative on the murders and disappearances of indigenous women. The government is funding related initiatives as part of the ‘Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women strategy,’ as well as the NWAC ‘Evidence to Action’ project, but it did not renew funding for the organization’s statistical monitoring of cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. As a result, no comprehensive sex and race disaggregated data to track the numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls since 2010 are available. The government contends that the responsibility for continued data collection will be assumed by the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).”

According to the report, between 1997 and 2000, the rate of homicide overall for Aboriginal women was 5.4 per 100,000, compared to 0.8 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal women – almost seven times higher.