OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — An international human rights watchdog accused members of Canada's national police force on Wednesday of abusing aboriginal women and girls in British Columbia.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it uncovered an allegation of rape and others of assault by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police against aboriginals in rural areas of northern British Columbia.
The alleged incidents were found through a broader investigation into charges of systemic neglect of missing and murdered aboriginal women along B.C.'s Highway 16, nicknamed the "Highway of Tears."
The report details specific allegations of abuse by officers.
RCMP Chief Supt. Janice Armstrong said the force has been unable to investigate because complainants have not come forward since Human Rights Watch approached it about the charges five months ago.
"These allegations must be brought forward for proper investigation," Armstrong said in a statement. "Unfortunately, five months later and none of these allegations have been brought forward for investigation. It is impossible to deal with such public and serious complaints when we have no method to determine who the victims or the accused are."
The allegations come amid recent Canada-wide aboriginal protests over living conditions and calls for a national inquiry into the disappearance or killings of many Aboriginal women over the past decades with little police investigation.
Human Rights Watch undertook the investigation last year after a Vancouver-based agency approached it in 2011 complaining that authorities in Canada were not doing enough to address the problem. 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 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; a 17-year-old girl being repeatedly punched by an officer; women strip-searched by male officers; and women injured by excessive force during their arrests.
"In 5 of the 10 towns Human Rights Watch visited in the north, we heard allegations of rape or sexual assault by police officers," the report states.
"Human Rights Watch was struck by the level of fear on the part of women we met to talk about sexual abuse inflicted by police officers."