A call for a civilian watchdog to investigate misconduct by law enforcement was
highlighted Tuesday by the author of a report that alleges abuses by police were committed against aboriginal women in northern B.C.
Meghan Rhoad, womens rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the report shows a need to establish "accountability mechanisms that are safe, independent and effective so that women and girls can feel safe coming forward and they know that their complaints will be taken seriously."
Rhoad further accused the federal government and police of "misdirection" by saying alleged victims should step forward with their stories so they can be investigated.
"The RCMP does not need further detail of individual allegations in order to address systemic issues," Rhoad said.
Human Rights Watch has maintained existing police complaint mechanisms, including the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, fall short of what's needed. The position was echoed by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.
"What we're really dealing with here is not only the issues of the RCMP but who are actually monitoring the RCMP and all the oversight," CSTC Chief Terry Teegee said. "We need an independent body to look at the conduct of the RCMP."
Carrier Sekani Family Services executive director Mary Teegee said the body should include significant representation of aboriginal women.
B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said that the ministry will review the report's recommendations and expects the RCMP will do the same.
"We recognize the importance of a number of the concerns raised in the report - such as equality audits, bias-free policing and cultural sensitivity - and these themes will also be highlighted in our soon-to-be-released B.C. Policing Plan."
As for the report's recommendation to expand the mandate of the provincial government's Independent Investigations Office to include investigations of alleged sexual assault by police, Bond indicated it would be considered only after a review of the IIO's existing mandate is completed.
The IIO's work is currently limited to investigating police-involved incidents of death or serious harm.
A request for comment from the federal public safety minister went unanswered Tuesday.
Although much of the event was spent criticizing the RCMP and its response to the report, speakers also stressed good work has been done.
The work of Prince George RCMP Cpl. Judy Thomas in helping to put judge David Ramsay behind bars in 2004 for sexually attacking an underage prostitute was praised.
"A lot of the women trusted her and I think that's one of the keys, is having someone within the RCMP that the women can trust," said Mavis Erickson, a Prince George lawyer who helped put Human Rights Watch in touch with some of the women depicted in the report.
"There are RCMP out there that do a good job and take their job seriously in serving and protecting," Erickson later said.