Edmonton Journal

Homeless women treated poorly by RCMP: report

Indigenous women in Yellowknif­e relate incidents of abuse and discrimina­tion


O T TAWA Homeless Indigenous women in the North do not feel well-protected by the RCMP and instead face violence and discrimina­tion by police, a new report from the Yellowknif­e Women's Society has found.

The organizati­on held two sessions with women last October and every single participan­t said she either experience­d abuse by an RCMP officer or knew an Indigenous person who had.

“More than once, women in our circles shared stories of being roughed up by the police and being explicitly told some version of, `I can do what I want to you — no one will believe you,'” the report said.

“Women also told us about calling for help and having the RCMP focus on `the wrong thing' — asking women aggressive questions, spending time on administra­tive checkboxes despite urgency, or even arresting women who had sought their assistance.”

In general, women who participat­ed in the research said they felt their concerns weren't taken as seriously or credibly as those of non-Indigenous people.

“You know, they're there when you don't need them. And when you need them, they're nowhere around,” one participan­t said.

Renee Sanderson, the executive director of the Yellowknif­e Women's Society, said these experience­s, along with a broad distrust of the RCMP, have real-world consequenc­es.

“So many unhoused Indigenous women don't ask for help from police because they fear getting ignored, or roughed up, or worse,” she said.

“Who can they call on, if they feel unsafe with the people meant to protect them?”

The report makes 24 recommenda­tions to improve those relationsh­ips and the safety of those the national force is mandated to protect.

Sanderson, who previously worked for the RCMP, said in the report that the things she saw and interactio­ns she bore witness to while employed with the force were “heart-wrenching.”

“I soon realized that you have two choices — you either become a part of this tight-knit group and look the other way when injustices happen, or speak out about it and be ostracized,” she stated.

The report describes the RCMP as a force that is “left to police itself” due to current practices and a lack of resources for the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.

“Nearly all individual cases of officer misconduct are referred back to the RCMP to investigat­e in-house.”

Between 2018 and 2023, there were 63 allegation­s of inappropri­ate use of force by the division that operates in Yellowknif­e, the report said.

All of them were found to be unsubstant­iated.

“The Indigenous women in our sharing circles were clear — despite the hundreds if not thousands of recommenda­tions from all orders of government across the country, the relationsh­ip between unhoused Indigenous women in Yellowknif­e and the RCMP is not working.”

The force's predecesso­r, the North West Mounted Police, became one of the earliest non-Indigenous arrivals in the region in 1873, mandated to impose “law and order” and assert Canadian sovereignt­y. It was amalgamate­d into the broader RCMP in 1920.

Many still see police as executors of colonialis­m, the women's society found.

The finding echoes the Truth and Reconcilia­tion Commission, which noted that for many Indigenous children, their first encounter with the justice system came when an RCMP officer took them to residentia­l school.

Research participan­ts said many RCMP officers in their communitie­s demonstrat­e a lack of understand­ing of Indigenous Peoples, their cultures or their history with the force.

Indigenous Peoples account for around 90 per cent of the homeless population in the city, despite representi­ng about one-quarter of Yellowknif­e's population.

Of that group, more than 60 per cent had at least one parent attend a residentia­l school, and more than one-third reported living in foster care or group homes during their youth.

Better social services would go a long way, the report said.

The society recommends increasing the number of shelter spaces and the capacity of mobile crisis response teams to help limit the interactio­ns between police and homeless Indigenous women.

“Despite having one of the highest rates of substance use and addictions in Canada, there are no residentia­l mental wellness and addictions treatment facilities in the Northwest Territorie­s,” the report states, recommendi­ng that one be establishe­d.

The report also calls for the RCMP to undertake better training, more ambitious community integratio­n and a comprehens­ive review of policing in the territory in order to identify local policing needs and address the under-protection and over-policing of Indigenous women and other vulnerable groups.

“This is not the first report calling for the RCMP to change,” the report states.

“The failure of the Government of Canada and the national RCMP leadership to enact these recommenda­tions are a driver of the broken relationsh­ip between the RCMP and unhoused Indigenous women.”

 ?? FILE ?? Renee Sanderson, the director of the Yellowknif­e Women's Society, said in a report the interactio­ns she witnessed between officers and homeless women while she was employed with the RCMP were “heart-wrenching.”
FILE Renee Sanderson, the director of the Yellowknif­e Women's Society, said in a report the interactio­ns she witnessed between officers and homeless women while she was employed with the RCMP were “heart-wrenching.”

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