Organization says it’s documented dozens of claims of police misconduct based on 64 interviews
By Jason Warick, CBC News Posted: Jun 19, 2017
Human Rights Watch is calling for the creation of a special investigative unit to look at allegations of violence by police in Saskatchewan.
During detailed interviews last year with 64 Saskatchewan Indigenous women, the New York-based organization says it uncovered dozens of cases of police misconduct, including overly intrusive strip searches, excessive use of force, racial profiling and sexual harassment.
“The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada means that police services across the country should be acutely aware of and sensitive to the well-being, vulnerability, and needs of Indigenous women,” said Farida Deif, Canada director at Human Rights Watch.
“Instead, in some cases, it is the police themselves who are making Indigenous women feel unsafe.”
Human Rights Watch, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the Elizabeth Fry Society and others held a news conference Monday to elaborate on the report.
At the conference, Deif said the group found evidence of a “deeply fractured” relationship between police and Indigenous communities.
‘Why is there still denial? You can’t deny that this is going on in our police system.’– Heath Bear, vice-chief
She said Indigenous women told them they wouldn’t call police to report crimes for fear of harassment and violence. She said one woman told them “we become as invisible as we possible can” in public places to avoid police attention. This breakdown of trust is particularly dangerous for victims of violence, she said, and could be life-threatening.
Sheila McLean, an Idle No More community organizer, said at the news conference the report “is not talking about a few bigots on our police force” but is example of systemic racism and the justice system’s role in perpetuating it.
All parties agreed action is needed, not more reports. Heather Bear, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief, asked how many reports have to be done before the problems are addressed.
“Why is there still denial?” she said. “You can’t deny that this is going on in our police system.”
She said the country needs “strong laws that protect our women from our protectors.”
“We are not invisible,” she added.
The report calls for a new special investigative unit that should employ staff with expertise in responding to violence against women. The report also calls for the unit to have power “to require chiefs of police to comply with the recommendations.”
According to the report, many Indigenous women are afraid to report police misconduct. Many are even afraid of the repercussions of reporting police violence against other Indigenous women they’ve witnessed.
Police agree changes needed: report
The report says most police know major changes are necessary in some areas. For example, it states, Prince Albert police estimate they take into custody 3,000 people per year for public intoxication.
“Police themselves recognize the problem and acknowledge that more centres are required and more support needed for those suffering from alcohol dependency,” says the report.
Other recommendations include:
- Ensure the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women investigate police agencies.
- Expand non-incarceration options for individuals arrested for being intoxicated in public, including short- and long-term detox facilities and alcohol management programs.
- Expand training for police officers to ensure that police forces have knowledge about Indigenous history, the legacy of colonial abuses — including policing abuses — and human rights policing standards.
- End body (“frisk”) searches of women and girls by male police officers in all but extraordinary circumstances.
- Collect and make publicly available (as ethically appropriate) accurate and comprehensive race- and gender-disaggregated data that includes an ethnicity variable on violence against Indigenous women, as well as on use of force, police stops, and searches.