Human Rights Watch accused Canada’s federal police Wednesday of striking fear in the hearts of aboriginal women, offering up testimonies of alleged police threats, abuse and even rape.
The fear of police expressed by 50 women and girls interviewed in the north of British Columbia province — the focus of the HRW investigation — was comparable with what its researchers witnessed in post-war Iraq and Libya, the group said.
“The threat of domestic and random violence on one side, and mistreatment by RCMP officers on the other, leaves indigenous women in a constant state of insecurity,” said Meghan Rhoad, co-author of an 89-page report on the matter.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it took the allegations “very seriously.”
But the RCMP added: “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.”
The report does not identify any victims and perpetrators or specific dates for the alleged incidents.
Ottawa, meanwhile, rejected HRW’s calls for a public inquiry.
HRW interviewed 42 women and eight girls in 10 communities along a highway connecting the cities of Prince George and Prince Rupert in Canada’s westernmost province in July and August.
The interviewees alleged officers often used excessive force in arresting them and then mistreated them while in custody.
A 15-year-old girl said her arm was broken by a policeman who was called by her mother to intervene in a dispute with her boyfriend.
Another girl claimed to have been zapped with a 50,000-volt Taser gun while police handcuffed her.
One woman said she was strip-searched by a male officer, while another claimed that four officers drove her into the woods in July, raped her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
The RCMP is investigating 13 homicides and five cases of women reported missing on or near the 724-kilometer (450-mile) highway in question, described on hand-painted signposts as the “Highway of Tears,” since the late 1960s.
Aboriginal leaders have estimated the number of dead or missing at more than 40. Some speculated that a serial killer has been targeting hitchhikers in the remote mountainous region.
“The failure of law enforcement authorities to deal effectively with the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada is just one element of the dysfunctional relationship between the Canadian police and indigenous communities,” the HRW report concluded.