Something Rotten In The State Of Canada

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP and the abuse of indigenous peoples in Canada
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP and the abuse of indigenous peoples in Canada

Some might believe that the biggest dividing line between Québec and Canada is the Francophone nature of the former. But that is not the only cultural divide that separates the two. Québec society has always been more liberal and left-leaning than their Canadian neighbours, despite the country’s majority Roman Catholic population. Indeed, in recent years Canada has lurched somewhat more to the right with a distinctly American-style of socio-economic policies from a Conservative dominated federal government (which has had a trickle-down effect into Québec politics).

One issue that certainly seems to divide both nations is the role of guns and private gun-ownership. Canadians like their guns, not as much or fetish-like as their southern US neighbours, but certainly with some sense of entitlement. In Québec however a much more “European” and generally negative view is held of firearms in private hands. So the latest clash between Québec City and Ottawa may turn this time not on language and sovereignty but on the issue of guns. From the Globe and Mail:

“Quebec has set itself apart from the rest of Canada with the tabling of gun control legislation that will establish a provincial firearms registry similar to the one Stephen Harper’s Conservative government voted to destroy last spring.

All opposition parties in the National Assembly joined the Parti Québécois government to support the bill, backed by a widespread consensus throughout Quebec society spearheaded by the families and friends of the victims of gun violence, chiefs of police, community groups, police associations and gun control advocates.

This wasn’t the first time that Quebec has taken a different view from the rest of the country on a social issue.

But rarely has an issue created so much controversy in the rest of Canada, yet generated such unanimous support in Quebec.”

However the issue of language rights hasn’t gone away in Québec with the acrimonious debate on the ruling Parti Québécois’ new language laws designed to encourage and facilitate greater use of French drawing the continued ire of Anglophone communities and federal politicians.

For many though the real news from Canada is the outrage sparked by a Human Rights’ report on the abusive tactics pursued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP against members of the indigenous communities or First Nations of Canada. As a federal police force the RCMP is one of Canada’s binding institutions, recognisable around the world, and this latest series of allegations against it merely serves to further undermine Canada’s view of itself. From an article by Human Rights Watch:

“Reported comments by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Bob Paulson show the need for an independent civilian mechanism to investigate police abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.

In an email late last week discussing the Human Rights Watch report on police mistreatment of indigenous women and girls in northern British Columbia, Paulson reportedly told officers “My message to you today is – don’t worry about it, I’ve got your back.”

“Commissioner Paulson’s dismissive approach sets precisely the wrong tone, and illustrates the challenges RCMP victims face,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “His comments underscore the need for investigation of police abuse complaints by an independent civilian agency that won’t leap into organizational defense mode the moment police abuse is exposed.”

Paulson further wrote that the RCMP has “tried to persuade [Human Rights Watch] to provide the names and specific details of these allegations in order that they can be investigated in accordance with our external investigation policy. If not to us then to any other investigative body. To date they have refused.”

In the 89-page report, “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada,” Human Rights Watch documented both ongoing police failures to protect indigenous women and girls in the north from violence and violent behaviour by police officers against women and girls. Police failures and abuses add to longstanding tensions between the RMCP and indigenous communities in the region, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch expressly withheld identifying details of certain incidents of police abuse in its report at the request of indigenous women and girls interviewed who cited serious fears of police retaliation. However, the report contains sufficient information and recommendations for the RCMP to broadly begin to respond to protection shortcomings. Existing police complaint mechanisms – including the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP  – fail to provide the independence, effectiveness, or victim and witness protection that are necessary for meaningful police accountability, Human Rights Watch said.

In September 2012, British Columbia established the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) to provide civilian investigation of serious complaints of police misconduct. However, the office’s mandate does not extend to rape and sexual assault.

“A police officer in British Columbia who has raped a woman has very little to worry about right now because there is no independent civilian body empowered to investigate the crime,” Rhoad said. “That is a travesty for the victims and also for all of the officers who serve honorably.”

On February 16, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that an RCMP spokesperson also disputed the figures of missing and murdered indigenous women compiled by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) before their federal funding for the project ran out in 2010. Funding was redirected to the RCMP, but police forces in Canada do not consistently collect ethnicity data. As a result, there is no tally of the number of indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered since NWAC’s project ended.”

Meanwhile over on Rabble, Karl Nerenberg reports on the 3000+ indigenous children who died in Canadian residential schools:

“The news that 3,000 young Aboriginal people died while in the care of residential schools should not come as a shock.

Nor should the fact that some of those deaths occurred as recently as the 1970s.

Acting Aboriginal Affairs Minister James Moore has described the deaths (which were almost certainly well in excess of the currently verified number of 3,000) as a “horrific circumstance.”

They were horrific, indeed — but hardly a “circumstance.” The deaths were an almost inevitable consequence of the residential school system. In much the same way, RCMP abuse of Aboriginal women and girls in Northern British Columbia is hardly a random circumstance.

In both cases, it is what happens when the majority society treats a people as colonized subjects.

The residential schools were open and honest about their purpose — to erase the “Indian” identity of their charges.

In our supposedly enlightened time, the RCMP is officially responsible for protecting communities of all kinds, including Aboriginal communities. But the evidence of RCMP officers’ behaviour toward Aboriginal women shows that, in northern B.C. at any rate, the Mounties act more like a foreign army of occupation than citizens’ protectors.“

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4 comments

    1. Thanks for that. The traditional image of Canada around the world has taken something of a battering over the last two decades (especially since the Somalia Affair made headlines in the early 1990s). Like every other country in the world there are darker aspects to its history and society but I must temper my indigenous fellow-feeling and write something positive soon. Having finally gotten around to watching the mid-2000s Canadian TV show “Slings and Arrows” I feel a review coming on 😉

      1. Canada has always been an interesting case, in my eyes. Obviously a very rugged land – much more so than the US – settled by hardy people. Yet, they have been much more willing to embrace a European-style government that is open to giving out more benefits to citizens. Canadians tend to be a lot less in-your-face, which can be a real nice change of pace from the some places in the US. And you’re right, every country has bits of its past it would like to redo given the chance, but some have a lot less to repent for than others.

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