The RCMP is investigating an upsetting incident in Surrey (BC), where a 16 year-old black girl was handcuffed and taken down in a case of “mistaken identity”. Ruth and Gary Augustine told CBC that they have lodged a formal public complaint on behalf of their daughter, who prefers not to be named in order to avoid harassment on social media.

The teenager says she was waiting at the Newton bus loop last Friday, on her way to a job interview, when two Mounties showed up and started asking her questions. They were apparently looking for someone wanted under the Mental Health Act. She says that she started backing away when they called her a “high-risk mental health patient”. She soon found herself on the ground under the two officers, with her hands behind her back. That’s when a bystander, going by the Facebook name of Ash Hotti, started filming:

The teenager can be heard crying and cursing, shouting “My name is not LaToya, ask me what my name is!”

When one of the officers realizes that the bystander is filming, he threatens to seize the phone as evidence. The bystander demands that the officer explains how it constitutes evidence.

“This is fucking wrong, be ashamed of yourselves!” Hotti later says, assuring the teen: “Don’t worry I got everything on film.”

“Yeah, you can send it to her phone and they’ll get charged,” suggests a second bystander.

When the officers checked the girl’s purse for ID, they found that they had the wrong person. They uncuffed her and left. The teenager told CTV news that neither officers asked her for ID before they tackled her, but that she would have complied if they did.

The Surrey RCMP have issued a statement on Wednesday after the family lodged a public complaint.

“Information was received regarding an individual who was wanted on a Mental Health Act warrant. There were concerns for this individual’s health, safety, and well-being. Officers subsequently located someone matching the description and apprehended a female at this location. Once it was learned that it was not the correct person, the 16-year-old female was released immediately,” stated the letter.

They deemed the situation “extremely unfortunate” and assured that senior investigators are in contact with the family. “We are certainly mindful of her young age and how upsetting this was for her and her family” said Superintendent and Operation officer Ed Boettcher. “I can assure you that we have resources dedicated to investigating the incident.”

People of colour too often misidentified

According to the director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Pho Niemi, mistaken identity cases are woefully common, especially for people of colour. “We get a case like that every year,” the director said.

Why? Police descriptions of suspects tend to be a lot less detailed when they’re not about Caucasians. “Almost every time, the description is too broad and race becomes a predominant factor,” says Niemi.

If this was the case in Surrey, he thinks the family should ask for more than an apology and pursue legal action.

“If the police officers were looking only for a young black woman, then they would be in trouble with the law in terms of discrimination,” Niemi affirmed. “It opens up every young black woman in the area to a police arrest and detention.”

Just last February, a man named Errol Burke was held at gunpoint and arrested while trying to buy milk in Montreal, before the police realized they had the wrong man.

Niemi, who has also worked for the Quebec Human Rights Commission, is further concerned about how the officers intervened with a person they thought to be a high-risk mental health patient. He questions whether the officers are trained to handle such cases.

“When one intervenes with a person known to have mental health issues,” he remarked, “there is a way to intervene in order to reduce the likelihood of breaching that person’s civil rights.”

“To all the women who have been impacted by the forces’ failure to protect your experience at work, and on the behalf of every leader […], I stand humbly before you today and solemnly offer our sincere apology.”

Such were the words of the RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, this Thursday, during a press conference in Ottawa. He was looking at ex-officers Janet Merlo and Linda Davidson, the two main plaintiffs of a class-action lawsuit for gender-based harassment and discrimination. Also present were the Justice Bastarache, as well as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk.

They were together to announce the “historic” settlement of the lawsuit that now involves 500 women, who are current or former employees of the national police force. Four years after the lawsuit was filed, the RCMP apologizes, promises tens of millions in compensation for the victims and commits to improving the situation.

“This is a great day for myself, women in the RCMP and women in Canada… I have total fate that this is the beginning of a new era, hopefully a better era” said Merlo.

The ex-Mountie choked back tears as she talked about the dedication of the women who stepped forward: “they all love the RCMP, they love their jobs. They just want it to be a better place to work; a place for their daughters to work.”

Davidson expressed similar hope, before promising that she will “continue to watch developments and continue to right the wrongs” in the RCMP.

The settlement was accepted by all parties but has yet to be approved by the court. It entails three main aspects: an official apology from the RCMP, a compensation scheme for the victims and measures to improve the situation.

Confidential and independent process

Six different levels of compensation have been set, based on the severity of the offence and on the impact of said offence on the claimant. The highest compensation possible is $220 000.  Based on the 500 victims that are part of the initial law suit, the RCMP has planned a budget of $100 million, taking into account that the number of claimants could reach 1 000. The commissioner called the estimates “a ballpark” and insisted that it wasn’t a cap on the spending.

Justice Bastarache took great care of insuring, in both official languages, that the compensation process will be “absolutely confidential.” The RCMP will transfer the compensation money to an account only Bastarache manages, and thus will be kept in the dark about the details of the claims and the identity of the claimants.  Women who have suffered bullying, harassment and discrimination can come forward without fearing retaliation from colleagues and community.

The confidentiality, necessary as it is, also means that the identity of the perpetrators will be just as secret as the identity of the victims.

This raises obvious concerns about harassers not only going unpunished, but being allowed to continue working with the RCMP.

The commissioner, visibly uncomfortable at the mention of such concerns, assured that victims were welcome to address the RCMP or the police directly if they wanted the guilty party sanctioned. “Be assured that the fist of God will descend upon [the perpetrators],” he promised.

“Cultural transformation”

“We don’t think women should be in the force, and especially not French-speaking ones.”

That’s how Joanne Mayer was greeted by her sergeant when she started working for the RCMP in Gibson, B.C.

In Nanaimo, B.C, when Merlo told her supervisor she was pregnant, he started yelling at her that next time, she “should keep [her] fucking legs closed.”

Dildos left on their desks, constant crude remarks and sexual propositions, superiors groping their breasts, less time off than their male coworkers and even less assistance in dangerous situations are all part of what some female RCMP agents described as part and parcel of their daily life.

After retiring prematurely, Merlo spoke out about the gender-based discrimination, bullying and harassment that she endured during her 20 years of career in the national police force. In 2012, she wrote a book titled No One to Tell: Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP and filed a civil claim.

500 then came forward with similar stories. This number is expected to double.

Commissioner Paulson pronounced the words “cultural transformation” as many times as he could fit into one press conference. He admitted that it was more than time to bring the RCMP into the modern days and thanked the plaintiffs multiple times for playing their part in this progress. The way that complaints and sexual harassment are processed in the RCMP is under review.

“You can now take some comfort in the knowledge that you have made a difference” he said to Merlo and Davidson. “The RCMP will never be the same.”

After years of demands for a national inquiry into the status of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has finally released the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

The number – 1,186 women missing or murdered over the past thirty years – was made public last week by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson. The reported cases of missing Indigenous women date back from 1952 onward, however a majority of the cases reported occurred from the1980s onward. The RCMP report found 1,017 Indigenous women were murdered from 1980 to 2012. 186 of the cases were of missing women.

These numbers are staggeringly higher than what was previously thought. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) estimated in 2010 that there were over 500 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, though also pointed to the fact that the number could be substantially higher.

NWAC was also behind the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) project that aimed to track the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. However SIS lost federal funding in 2010, causing the research to end. Despite this, initiatives to investigate the number continued independently.

The numbers first came to light last week when Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) released the tip, forcing the RCMP to announce that the numbers were in fact correct.

According to the RCMP report, Indigenous women only make up 4 per cent of the population in Canada, however they make up 16 per cent of murdered women, and 12 per cent of missing women.

Despite these numbers, the Conservative government is still opposing calls for a federal inquiry. The New Democratic Party (NDP) however have spoken out since the report has been released on the need for an inquiry, with leader Thomas Mulcair calling on Monday for the federal government to take action.

The current Conservative government has previously ignored all calls for a federal inquiry. Despite the fact that they ended funding for SIS with claims that it was time for “concrete steps,” none have appeared to actually have been taken. The numbers being released only shows how much a federal inquiry is needed to properly shed light on the issue – however it seems highly unlikely one will occur under this government.

James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the welfare of Indigenous peoples, also called on May 12 for Canada to launch a ‘comprehensive national inquiry’ into the status of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

These numbers, while higher than previously thought, only reinforce how much of a culture of violence is tolerated against Indigenous women in Canada. While the RCMP are releasing these numbers, they should also be looking internally into how they themselves address cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, as so far they have proven to be just as complacent – at best – in properly addressing cases.

The numbers are part, according to the RCMP, of a larger National Operational Overview on Missing and Murdered Women to be released in the coming weeks.

When you read about the egregious case of Ellen Richardson, a Canadian woman recently denied entry to the US for a vacation, it’s hard to believe that we’re making any progress as a society when it comes to  defending those who are the most vulnerable. For all its talk about fighting mental illness and removing the stigma from those who suffer from it, our government’s policies seems to be achieving the exact opposite of this by sharing sensitive private information contained in the Canadian Police Information Centre data base with regards to those who have a history of serious psychological issues ( 1 in 5 Canadians, according to the latest studies), including suicide attempts, as was the case with Ms. Richardson.

Ms. Richardson is one of a number Canadians who have been turned away by US border security because their name appears on a de-facto black list of Canadians who, in the words of an RCMP flack, are not only a danger to themselves, put pose an imminent threat to the general public and “police officers who may come into contact with them.” Bear in mind, we’re talking about a paraplegic confined to a motorized wheelchair here.

The border agent in question explained to Ms. Richardson that he was just enforcing section 22 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act which allows them to discriminate against foreigners visiting the country on the basis of mental health, even though such discrimination against American citizens is now illegal. He told her she could travel provided she received a note from one of the handful of doctors in Toronto that was approved by US authorities.

Ellen Richardson (image Toronto Star)
Ellen Richardson (image Toronto Star)

 

It’s worth noting that such outrageous violations of basic human rights of certain groups have been sanctioned by the US government for various reasons over the years, including a ban against people who are HIV positive from visiting the country which lasted until 2009.

As many experts have pointed out, people undergoing treatment for mental illness (Ms. Richardson, for example) do not have a higher rate of violence than those who aren’t. Furthermore, by punishing those that seek out help for their mental issues, the government inadvertently sends the message that such individuals should stay in the closet rather than admit that they have a problem.

For the Canadian authorities to participate in such an immoral system (sadly, not the first time) shows a complete lack of understanding of the both the nature of mental illness as well as shocking lack of respect for people’s recognized right to privacy as Canadians. Will the RCMP and the federal government apologize to Ms. Richardson for an unforgivable breach of her privacy and the inflicting of more psychological distress on her and others in a similar predicament?

Last week’s RCMP bombshell dump revealed a few things about the private e-mails of PMO staff and their counterparts in the Senate. For the dozen or so Harper administration staffers, lawyers and spin doctors, the documents give the Canadian public a rare glimpse of the way that the ultra-secretive Harper government operates in a major political crisis.

Though they do not vindicate the Prime Minister or corroborate his wildly implausible story of being completely unaware of what his chief of staff, Nigel Wright, was doing in his attempts to contain the damage being done to the Prime Minister’s brand by Senator and former Harper bagman Mike Duffy’s various acts of fraud. They do not provide the smoking gun type of evidence that would expose the Prime Minister as the mastermind behind botched efforts to put the corruption scandal to bed.

This doesn’t mean Harper’s out of the woods yet. On the contrary, the now infamous Wright quote that his boss was “good to go,” with respect to negotiations he was having involving both the PM’s lawyer Benjamin Perrin & Duffy’s lawyer Allison Payne on the conditions that would be acceptable to all parties concerned, would suggest that there is definitely some fire to go with all the smoke coming out of the Prime Minister’s office at the moment.

While it may still be true (though this would not excuse Harper’s ignorance of the situation) that the Prime Minister had no clue that his right hand man at the time was cutting a $90 000 personal cheque to silence an embarrassing Senator and in the process committing a crime under federal law, it seems that Harper at least knew about the first proposed solution Wright made to pay, out of Conservative Party funds, Duff-man 32K in order to reimburse him for the amount that was being demanded by the Senate Rules committee for illegally claimed expenses related to his secondary residence in PEI. This idea was eventually nixed by President of the party and Senator appointed by Harper in 2009, Irving Gerstein, forcing Wright to find an alternative to, in his words, “close out” an increasingly irksome problem and Senator (Duffy).

Duff-man may be proclaiming his innocence from the bully pulpit, but the documents released by the RCMP make it clear that he was not simply the victim of bad accounting and a vindictive Prime Minister more than happy to throw him and his other former Senate cronies under the bus. In fact, it’s almost hard not to sympathize with Wright who appears to have become rather impatient with the Senator and his lawyer’s constant haggling with the PMO over the terms of his bail out.

More to the point, Duff-man appears to have hatched a cover story involving taking out a line of credit from the bank with the intention of duping the media and public into believing that the this, rather than the cheque from Wright, would be used to repay the Senate. Incidentally, I love Duffy’s cynical insistence on inserting “PEI-isms” into the media lines he was given to deliver.

It’s not all bad news for the government. It appears that at least one staffer, Chris Montgomery, working for then Government leader in the Senate and Cabinet Minister Senator Marjory Lebreton (remember her infamous lashing out at the media over reporting on the scandal as “Liberal elites and their media lickspittles”) tried in vain to prevent the Prime Minister and his minions from imposing their will on the damning Senate Committee report that would have denounced Duffy and his colleagues for their financial recklessness with the tax payer’s money. For this display of integrity, Montgomery earned the scorn of Harper lackey Patrick Rogers who is quoted in the e-mail as saying “This is epic. Montgomery is the problem.”

Indeed, defending the independence of the Senate and democratic institutions against the meddling of the executive is regarded by Harper and his staff as an unforgivable sin.