Human Rights Watch has accused Canada’s federal police of intimidating and even sexually assaulting aboriginal women and girls in the province of British Columbia.
In a scathing report, which was released on Wednesday, the rights organization documented numerous accounts of women and girls in the province’s indigenous communities finding themselves in a constant state of fear.
“The threat of domestic and random violence on one side, and mistreatment by RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers on the other, leaves indigenous women in a constant state of insecurity,” AFP quoted Meghan Rhoad, co-author of the 89-page report on the issue, as saying at a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.
The report also documented a number of disturbing allegations of rape and sexual assault at the hands of police.
“In five of the 10 towns Human Rights Watch visited in the north, we heard allegations of rape or sexual assault by police officers,” the report stated.
The report was the outcome of an investigation into the “Highway of Tears” — the name used to describe an infamous 800-kilometer stretch of highway in central British Columbia where 18 women have disappeared over the past several decades.
Two researchers, one from Canada and one from the US, spent five weeks last summer in the province’s north, interviewing 42 women and eight girls in 10 communities along the highway that connects the cities of Prince George and Prince Rupert in the westernmost province.
The researchers noted that all of the victims in the report were frightened about possible retaliation within their communities or by police, and insisted on having their identities protected.
“(This report) was about the level of fear that I and my colleague witnessed in the north at levels that we found comparable in conflict situations in post-war Iraq,” Rhoad added.
“It’s about the lack of meaningful accountability for police neglect or police mistreatment which creates an environment of impunity for violence against indigenous women and girls,” she stated.
The report called on the federal government to launch a national inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls, and called for an independent civilian investigation into the reports of police misconduct.
The RCMP said it took the allegations “very seriously” but that “it is impossible to deal with such public and serious complaints when we have no method to determine who the victims of the accused are.”
Indigenous communities in Canada, also known as the First Nations, say they are frustrated with Ottawa’s failure to address the social and economic grievances facing many of Canada’s 1.2 million aborigines.
Many of Canada’s natives live in poor conditions with unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, addiction, and high suicide rates.
In a report released on December 19, 2012, Amnesty International called on Canada to address human rights abuses in the country, particularly with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples.