Canada: Failure to Protect Indigenous Women and Girls from Violence
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 12:55 PM

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in northern British Columbia is failing to protect indigenous women and girls from violence. Since the late 1960s, dozens of women and girls have been reported as missing or found dead along Highway 16 in northern British Columbia. This area has come to be known as the “Highway of Tears” in remembrance of these women and girls.

Human Rights Watch recently released the report, Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada. Researchers interviewed 50 indigenous women and girls, and conducted an additional 37 interviews with the families of murdered and missing women across 10 communities. Human Rights Watch researchers reported being astonished by the fear these women expressed. Indigenous women and girls divulged stories and experiences of abuse by the RCMP, including excessive use of force, strip searches of women by male officers, and physical and sexual abuse. “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, author of the report and researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Where can they turn for help when the police are known to be unresponsive and, in some cases, abusive.”
The government of Canada has taken some steps to address the continued violence against indigenous women and girls, but the persistence of the violence indicates that more needs to be done. Human Rights Watch includes recommendations for the government of Canada and the RCMP, inluding:
  • The Canadian government should develop and put into operation a national action plan to address violence against indigenous women and girls, with attention to the current and historical discrimination and the economic and social inequalities that increase their vulnerability to violence. This should stress the need for accountability of government bodies in this action;
  • The RCMP should expand training and monitoring of training for police officers to counter sexism and to improve police response to violence against women and girls in indigenous communities;
  • The RCMP should eliminate searches and monitoring of women and girls by male police officers in all but extraordinary circumstances and require documentation and review of any such searches by supervisors and commanders. 
Compiled from: Rhoad, Meghan and Muscati, Samer, “Canada: Abusive Policing, Neglect Along ‘Highway of Tears’,Human Rights Watch (13 February 2013).