RCMP deny rights link to Fowler murder

Human Rights Watch cite's teen's death in Kamloops in report on alleged RCMP abuses

Sylvie Paillard Daily News Staff Reporter with The Canadian Press / Kamloops Daily News
February 13, 2013 01:00 AM

The cover of the Human Rights Watch report

The organization Human Rights Watch, which focuses on human rights abuses throughout the world, has turned its gaze on the murders of B.C.'s aboriginal girls.

But linking last year's murder of teenager CJ Fowler in Kamloops to the Highway of Tears is way off base, says Kamloops RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Grant Learned.

"It's unfortunate and it's frankly irrelevant to try to use the tragic loss of that poor girl as a springboard to raise light," he said.

The Human Rights Watch report - Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada - compiles dozens of interviews with aboriginal women in more than a dozen communities who say they've suffered due to poor policing practices that range from indifference towards domestic abuse to sexual attack.

The alleged incidents were uncovered as part of a broader investigation into charges of systemic neglect of missing and murdered aboriginal women along Highway 16.

Human Rights Watch undertook the investigation last year after a Vancouver-based agency, Justice for Girls, approached it in 2011 complaining that authorities in Canada were not doing enough to address the problem.

Meghan Rhoad, the report's lead researcher, said she wants the police to be held accountable.

"Policing is failing in terms of protection of indigenous women and girls in northern B.C., certainly based on our research."

The report starts with a look at Fowler's Dec. 5 murder, saying she "is just one of several hundred indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing across Canada over the last several decades."

Fowler's father Glen Wilson's pleas for answers during a Vancouver press conference are also quoted.

"'We would just like to stop this violence,'" the report quotes Wilson as saying. "'We want some answers and we don't want this case to be another they stick under the rug.'"

But Learned rejects the group's connection between Fowler and women disappearing and found dead along Highway 16 and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"Yes, there are outstanding concerns for Highway 16 (and the) E-PANA investigation, which is very much active and ongoing," said Learned. "(But) there's no linkage whatsoever to some of the higher profile matters which the Human Rights Watch International was trying to bring attention to."

He said when the facts are revealed, even the loved-ones of the Highway 16 and Vancouver victims will realize Fowler's case "doesn't address the same issues."

As it stands, RCMP is awaiting a forensics report on Fowler and police continue to seek tips.

Learned also rejects suggestions that police were neglectful or dismissive with regards to the Fowler investigation.

"From the onset, it was one that we took immediate care to deal with directly with the families, to engage the aboriginal communities," he said.

RCMP participated in a smudging ceremony near the site of Fowler's death and police are in weekly contact with the family, he added.

Researchers spent five weeks in 10 northern B.C. towns last summer and conducted 87 interviews with 42 indigenous women and eight indigenous girls from age 15 to 60.

The report contains a number of testimonials from women whose identities have all been protected.

The most serious allegation involved a woman who told researchers that she was raped and threatened with death by four RCMP officers after she was abused in a remote location.

Other allegations include: young girls being pepper sprayed and shocked with a Taser; a 12-year-old girl being attacked by a police dog and women strip-searched by male officers.

Samer Muscati, a Canadian co-researcher, said the level of fear among the women interviewed was on par with what he's encountered while researching abuses by security forces throughout the Middle East, Iraq, Libya and Sudan.

"But in Canada, where police are known to protect citizens, it is quite alarming to hear the stories of women and girls, particularly," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is calling Human Rights Watch to share information with police about allegations of abuse.

"Just get on and do it," Harper told the House of Commons in response to a question by interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.

Harper also announced that the government has asked the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to look into the allegations raised in the report.

Rae called for the criminal allegations to be referred to an outside police force because the RCMP should not be expected to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by its own members.

The RCMP wants to get to the bottom of abuse allegations against its officers, but Human Rights Watch isn't helping police to investigate, RCMP Chief Supt. Janice Armstrong said in a statement.

None of the complainants have come forward since the organization approached the Mounties about the allegations five months ago, so police haven't been able to investigate further, she said.


© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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