The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action Releases Important Report “The Toxic Culture of the RCMP: Misogyny, Racism, and Violence Against Women in Canada’s National Police Force”
In a media interview regarding the release of the report, one of the report’s co-authors Dr. Pam Palmater emphasized, “The RCMP have become a national public safety crisis for women both inside and outside the RCMP, especially in relation to their role in the crisis of abused, neglected, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It’s long past time that the federal government take urgent action to prevent the rape or sexual assault of another woman or girl by the RCMP.”
As a decolonial, anti-racist, and intersectional feminist organization, Battered Women’s Support Services supports FAFIA’s report into this important issue.
The FAFIA report reviews the existing evidence of harassment and violence against women committed by the RCMP, as well as the well-documented evidence of RCMP failures to prevent and investigate violence against women. The report stresses how “countless recommendations have been made regarding the need to reform the RCMP, including by the Bastarache Report, the Human Rights Watch Reports, the Inter-American Commission Report, the CEDAW Inquiry Report, the Oppal Report, the Final Report of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the Pauktuutit Report, and the letters from the Legal Services Board of Nunavut.”
The FAFIA report uses the lens of international human rights law to establish that Canada has failed in its obligation to uphold and address women’s right to equality and non-discrimination.
As the authors detail “In particular, international human rights law spells out that the obligations of governments not to discriminate against women require them 1) to ensure that state actors do not perpetrate violence against women and 2) to prevent, investigate, prosecute and provide redress for violence against women by nonstate actors.”
The report highlights “Over the last decade, numerous reports from legal experts and human rights organizations have documented violence against women by RCMP Officers, including harassment, sexual assault, rape, and sexualized verbal abuse. In addition, reports from international, regional and domestic inquiries, as well as from journalists and civil society organizations, have documented RCMP failures to protect women from violence by men in the community – including sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, and murder. These reports show that Indigenous women are particular targets of sexualized violence by RCMP Officers, and, as the crisis of murders and disappearances reveals, their lives are also especially endangered by RCMP failures to protect them.”
The first part of the FAFIA report focuses on violence against Indigenous women and girls, who face disproportionately high levels of violence, including police violence and criminalization, as compared to other women in Canada.
“Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” makes clear that violence against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women, girls, two spirit, and gender diverse people in Canada stems from targeted colonial gendered violence. As the Final Report states, Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, has become embedded in everyday life – whether this is through interpersonal forms of violence, through institutions like the health care system and the justice system, or in the laws, policies and structures of Canadian society. The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls finds that this amounts to genocide.”
We know from our frontline work that, since the time of colonial contact, Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people both experience higher rates of colonial, gendered violence and, further, that they are dismissed, not believed, and under-protected by police forces when reporting violence.
Amnesty International has documented how Indigenous women and girls in Canada do not seek justice from state systems because they know they will not get it.
A recent study “Sexual Assault: Indigenous Women’s Experiences of Not Being Believed by the Police” details how Indigenous women described that when reporting or attempting to report sexual assault to police, their experience with police “was negative, not what they expected, and for many, it was retraumatizing. Participants self-reported that they felt dismissed by the police and that police believed their sexual assault was either untrue or unimportant.”
In B.C, the provincial Missing Women Commission of Inquiry unequivocally found that “The missing and murdered women were forsaken by society at large and then again by the police.”
Police officers have also themselves abused and violated Indigenous women and girls, for example, as evident in the stories of Indigenous women in Val d’Or who were physically and sexually abused by officers from the Sûreté du Québec, or the extensive stories of RCMP abuse, including sexual violence, against Indigenous women documented in Human Rights Watch reports in northern B.C and Saskatchewan. There have been little to no consequences for police sexual violence; Dr. Pam Palmater argues “The majority of incidents involving allegations of police sexualized violence against Indigenous women and girls (at least those that have been publicized) appear to have been addressed as employee discipline matters rather than being prosecuted as sexual assault crimes.”
Taken together, Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people are dealing with both the systemic failures of the police to prevent and investigate violence against them, while also being subjected to harassment and violence committed by Canada’s own police officers. As the report “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada” concludes, “Not surprisingly, indigenous women and girls report having little faith that police forces responsible for mistreatment and abuse can offer them protection when they face violence in the wider community.”
FAFIA’s report also highlights the misogyny embedded within the RCMP in terms of its treatment of women police officers and women employed by the RCMP.
“Broken Dreams, Broken Lives: The Devastating Effects of Sexual Harassment On Women in the RCMP” was authored by former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache after a class-action settlement that saw more than 3,000 RCMP women officers file claims for compensation for sexual harassment within the RCMP. In his review, Bastarache found that the sexual harassment of women RCMP officers cannot be seen as a problem attributed to a few individual “bad apples.” In his wide-ranging and scathing report, Bastarache stressed “For more than 30 years there have been calls to fix sexual harassment in the RCMP. Internal and external reports have been delivered both to the RCMP and the Government of Canada outlining a toxic work environment for women and LGBTQ2S+ persons employed by the RCMP. It is well past time for the Government of Canada to take meaningful and radical action to address these issues.” Echoing the Bastarache report, the FAFIA report asserts “the sexual harassment is fostered and permitted by an institutional culture of misogyny, racism and homophobia that operates at every level of the RCMP and in every jurisdiction.”
In conclusion, the FAFIA report asserts “Canada cannot have a credible National Action Plan on Violence against Women, or a credible National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, until we confront the deeply entrenched misogyny and racism in the culture of the RCMP.”
We couldn’t agree more. Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized survivors experiences, including experiences with police and criminalizing systems, must be centrally considered in any plan to end gender-based violence.
Provincially, our Executive Director, Angela Marie MacDougall, made submissions to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, highlighting how “police have been responding to, specifically, gender-based violence and domestic violence within British Columbia. We began to notice how police began to use the policies, which we’d worked so hard to develop, to disadvantage women. We began to see about 14 years ago the increases of women who have been wrongfully arrested by the police for allegedly perpetrating domestic violence… [W]e continue to see, increasingly so, troubling responses by police when they arrive at domestic violence circumstances, where they tend to not follow the very policies that have been created and that are designed to guide them to perform proper investigations.”
Similar to the FAFIA’s report recommendation of full, independent, external review of the RCMP, we are also calling for a comprehensive review of policing responses to domestic violence and sexualized violence in BC.
We also know that a policing and crime-based funding and policy response to gender-based violence has consistently proven to be ineffective. We need all levels of government to prioritize systemic, community-based prevention and intervention strategies to end gender-based violence against women, girls, trans and gender-diverse people, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, newcomer immigrant/refugee, racialized, and low-income.
We know that safety changes everything, and we are committed to ending femicide and all forms of gender-based violence.
So, at BWSS, we stay on the frontline.
Our crisis line continues 24/7/365 receiving an average of 50 calls daily and our crisis line volunteers, support workers, legal advocates, and counsellors tirelessly respond to tens of thousands of requests for service annually.
We will also be launching our first report as part of our multi-year Colour of Violence project examining the intersections of race and gender for Indigenous, Black, newcomer immigrant/refugee, and racialized women and gender diverse people experiencing gender-based violence in British Columbia.