B.C.’s former child representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says the “heinous” treatment of an Indigenous teenager during a 2012 interrogation by an RCMP officer reflects a pattern she has seen over and over.
In recent days, politicians have expressed outrage after APTN published a video of a male officer asking pointed questions of a young woman describing a sexual assault she said she experienced in the B.C. foster-care system.
“Were you at all turned on during this at all, even a little bit?” the officer can be heard saying in the video.
“No,” the young woman replies.
“Physically, you weren’t at all responsive to his advances, even, maybe, subconsciously?” the officer says.
“Maybe subconsciously, but no … I was really scared,” she says.
Upon the video’s release, as a result of a current lawsuit, politicians were quick to convey outrage, including on the floor of the House of Commons.
During question period, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday that its contents were ”absolutely abhorrent” after he was asked about it by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
“The apparent attitudes and techniques that were on display in 2012 are profoundly outdated, offensive and wrong,” said Goodale, the minister responsible for the RCMP, to applause from MPs on both sides of the House.
B.C.’s Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy said Thursday the video is “sickening and horrible.”
“Women, especially Indigenous women and girls, face many barriers in reporting sexual violence,” she said in a statement. “We must do everything possible to reduce those barriers and protect survivors of sexual violence.”
While the video may have generated shock, it is far from an isolated case, Turpel-Lafond told The Canadian Press, adding that provincial and federal politicians know well there has been ”major difficulty” with this issue for some time.
“The heinous way in which this young person was treated, being alone in an interrogation room, being treated as though she was a criminal, not a victim, and also the poor training, the suggestion that somehow a victim of sexualized violence is enjoying the sexualized violence, this is so fundamentally offensive but is a pattern I’ve seen again and again and that we need to address,” Turpel-Lafond, now a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said in an interview.
In 2016, she produced a report showing at least 109 girls were the victims of sexualized violence while in government foster care and that 74 of them were Aboriginal. The case of the teen in the 2012 recording was among them.
“My experience has indicated to me that this has been an issue for some time and it should be known to be an issue,” Turpel-Lafond said. “There was a comprehensive reporting.”
Young women who face sexualized violence and then get inappropriate responses by police are less likely to get support and more likely to be preyed upon, she said, adding an effective complaints process for such treatment is sorely lacking.
Turpel-Lafond said young people being abused in foster care often can’t find a way to bring it to official attention.
“We don’t have an easy process for young people in care or Indigenous girls and women to bring their issues forward, to be taken seriously, to be dealt with in a rapid way,” she said. “It takes years and years and lawsuits.”
Policing is expected to be a major theme highlighted in the forthcoming report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, set to be released publicly on June 3 in Gatineau, Que.
Racism, sexism and victim-blaming were raised during pre-inquiry gatherings before the commission began its work, Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Thursday.
There has been an acknowledgment of these issues particularly by the RCMP, Bennett said, noting a 2017 report produced by the force to help strengthen police training and awareness.
“We also hope that all other police forces will be very intentional about this and take this all very seriously, not only in recruiting but in training and consequences at any incident,” she said.
– With files from Laura Kane in Vancouver
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press