Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sharply criticized the Canadian government for its inaction over a report that accuses the country’s federal police of raping and abusing aboriginal women.
On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected calls by the rights group for an inquiry into allegations of violence committed by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) against aboriginal women and girls.
“I would encourage anyone with information that bears on these matters to pass it along to the appropriate authorities,” Harper said in response to the report.
Samer Muscati, a Canadian co-researcher of the report detailing allegations of abuse and sexual assault at the hands of police, said on Thursday that Harper missed the point of the report -- that aboriginal women and girls are often too traumatized to cooperate with police.
“Those comments ignore the fear of reprisal those victims have,” Muscati said.
“The comments don’t address the core issue of the lack of security that prevents indigenous women and girls from filing complaints of police abuse,” he added.
Muscati said that HRW was snubbed by Harper and three cabinet ministers, none of whom were willing to meet and be briefed on the report before it was issued.
Harper also asked the rights group to share the information it has about the abuse, but Muscati said the organization has no intention of doing so.
“We have to stand by the victims who have asked us not to identify them because they’re terrified of police retaliation,” he noted.
The Canadian government is “missing the point of the report. If he met with us and reviewed the report, he would know that’s an unrealistic request given that our report is about fear and insecurity that plagues aboriginal women and girls,” the researcher pointed out.
In the scathing report, which was released on Wednesday, the New York-based rights group accused Canada's federal police of intimidating and even sexually assaulting aboriginal women and girls in the province of British Columbia.
In the report, HRW documented numerous accounts of women and girls in the province’s indigenous communities finding themselves in a constant state of fear.
"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, the other author of the 89-page report on the issue.
The report also documented a number of disturbing allegations of rape and sexual assault at the hands of police.
"In five of the 10 towns Human Rights Watch visited in the north, we heard allegations of rape or sexual assault by police officers," said the report, which was the outcome of an investigation into the "Highway of Tears" -- the name used to describe an infamous 800-kilometer stretch of highway in central British Columbia where 18 women have disappeared over the past several decades.
Two researchers, one from Canada and one from the United States, spent five weeks last summer in the province’s north, interviewing 42 women and eight girls in 10 communities along the highway that connects the cities of Prince George and Prince Rupert in the westernmost province.
The researchers noted that all of the victims in the report were frightened about possible retaliation within their communities or by police, and insisted on having their identities protected.
The report called on the federal government to launch a national inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls, and called for an independent civilian investigation into the reports of police misconduct.
The RCMP said it took the allegations "very seriously" but that “it is impossible to deal with such public and serious complaints when we have no method to determine who the victims of the accused are."
Indigenous communities in Canada, also known as the First Nations, say they are frustrated with Ottawa’s failure to address the social and economic grievances facing many of Canada’s 1.2 million aborigines.
Many of Canada’s natives live in poor conditions with unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, addiction, and high suicide rates.
In a report released on December 19, 2012, Amnesty International called on Canada to address human rights abuses in the country, particularly with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples.