Justin Brake and Brittany Hobson
Politicians in Ottawa responded Wednesday to a video published on APTN News’ web site that shows a Kelowna RCMP officer interrogating a female Indigenous teenager who reported she was sexually assaulted while in the B.C. child welfare system.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the video “absolutely abhorrent,” after being asked by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer how the Liberals will respond to the matter.
The video, which depicts a male police officer alone in a room with the Indigenous youth, has been viewed tens of thousands of times on APTN’s Facebook page and has prompted outrage.
“The apparent attitudes and techniques that were on display in 2012 are profoundly outdated, offensive and wrong,” Goodale said in the House of Commons Wednesday.
“The RCMP and all police forces must work continuously to conduct themselves appropriately. No survivor of sexual assault should ever fear that their case will not be taken seriously or that they will be revictimized in the process.”
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said he was “shocked and horrified” by the video.
He called the RCMP officer’s line of questioning “appalling and insensitive to the young woman who was coming forward with her story.”
He asked Goodale what is being done to prevent repeat incidents.
Goodale didn’t respond during Question Period but his office emailed a statement to APTN, saying the RCMP “has made major improvements to how its employees respond to victims and investigate allegations of sexual assault,” and that the federal police force “has taken action to strengthen police training and awareness, investigative accountability, victim support, and public education and communication.”
(NDP MP Nathan Cullen said the video of an RCMP officer interrogating an Indigenous youth who reported a sexual assault is evidence the relationship between Canada’s federal police force and Indigenous peoples is “still fraught”. Justin Brake/APTN)
Public Safety points to an RCMP review of sexual assault cases in Canada in 2016 that found of more than 10,000 reported sexual assault cases in that year, 2,225 were classified as unfounded.
Of those, 1,260 of the unfounded cases were discovered to be misclassified.
As a result of the review, the RCMP identified 284 files for further review.
An investigation by the Globe and Mail published in February 2017 found that one in five sexual assault allegations reported to police are dismissed as unfounded.
According to Statistics Canada, around 635,000 sexual assaults occurred in 2014. Upward of 90 percent of those incidents were not reported to police.
In June the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will release its final report.
Throughout its information gathering process the inquiry heard from hundreds of Indigenous women about their experiences with Canada’s justice system.
On Tuesday inquiry Chief Commissioner Marion Buller responded to the video, telling APTN “it was inappropriate to ask, in my view anyway…the young woman whether she was sexually aroused even in the slightest degree by the assault.”
In the video, during a two-and-a-half hour interrogation, the officer asks the youth if she was “at all turned on” during the alleged assault. “Even a little bit?’ the officer said.
“You understand that when a guy tries to have sex with a female and the female is completely unwilling it is very difficult,” he added.
Buller said the incident resembles stories she heard during MMIWG Inquiry hearings.
The youth, who was often alone in the room with multiple male officers during the interrogation, told APTN said she was “terrified” during the interrogation, and that “there was no parental support for me there at all.”
The reported assailant was an acquaintance of the youth, and the alleged assault happened while the girl was in foster care.
Minister Goodale’s office said in its statement that “any individual who feels that their case was not investigated properly can request that their file be looked at again at the detachment level.”
Public Safety also said complainants can file complaints about the RCMP’s handling of their case with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.
After seeing the video, NDP MP Nathan Cullen called for an investigation of the incident, “and this officer reprimanded at the very, very least.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Cullen said the incident is just one example of how the justice system fails Indigenous people.
“We’ve heard and seen these instances before,” he said. “I think for me, and Canadians broadly — Indigenous people in particular — [we] want to see a fundamental change.”
The RCMP responded to APTN’s request for comment on the incident.
“Unfortunately, the RCMP is not in a position to provide further context or perspective as the case is subject to restrictions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, an ongoing Criminal Code matter and civil litigation proceedings,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We are also mindful of the Privacy Act, in addition to a number of other considerations.”
Cullen said the incident shows that the relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous peoples is “still fraught.”
Goodale’s office said the RCMP administers “new training” for officers around “myths surrounding sexual assault and consent law,” and that cultural competency training, trauma-informed investigations training and a course for sexual assault investigators are currently “under development.”