Indigenous women are easy targets in communities where police are 90 minutes away, advocates say

Indigenous women are easy targets in communities where police are 90 minutes away, advocates say

MMIWG panel asks for more experienced police officers, expertise, to protect women and girls.

Human rights advocates say the length of time it takes for police to respond to calls in Indigenous communities in northeastern British Columbia leaves women and girls vulnerable and afraid for their safety.

Connie Greyeyes of the Bigstone Cree Nation in Fort St. John, B.C., who testified before the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls Tuesday in Quebec City, has spent years raising awareness and advocating for victims’ rights.

She said the police presence in B.C.’s northern communities is sporadic, and that opens the door to violent crimes.

Communities around Fort St. John are at least 90 minutes away from the nearest police detachment, Greyeyes said — and a lot can happen after a call is made to police before an officer actually arrives on site.

“Even the perpetrators know you have that long to get away,” she said, calling that a “scary” reality for women living in violent relationships.

Gender rights campaigner Jacqueline Hensen also appeared before the inquiry Tuesday.

She highlighted the need to assign more experienced police officers to patrol northern communities instead of rookies who are often ill-equipped to deal with complex situations.

Hensen said there needs to be a push to make policing in Indigenous communities “a desirable post” and to create expertise centres in places such as Fort St. John.

The limited resources allocated by government to other services and departments also has an impact that “trickles down to police,” Hensen said.

She described roads in poor condition, which in turn lead to traffic accidents that require police attention. She said at times officers also take on the role of social workers, who are in short supply in remote communities.

Hensen and Greyeyes both contributed to several Amnesty International Canada reports examining the violence which many Indigenous women experience.

Amnesty’s 2016 report Out of sight, Out of mind followed earlier reports calling for the MMIWG inquiry — Stolen Sisters, published in 2004 and 2009’s No more stolen sisters, all of which called on Canada to address violence against Indigenous women and girls.

“We called for that 14 years ago we still don’t have that now,” Hensen said.

Opioid crisis ‘devastating communities’

Earlier the commissioners heard from the chief of Canada’s largest Indigenous police force, who said policing in First Nations communities in northern Ontario is “like driving a car with no brakes.”

The Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service (NAPS), which serves 34 communities in northern Ontario, has struggled with chronic underfunding for the past two decades, Terry Armstrong told the inquiry Monday.

“You’re hanging on with your fingernails. It’s not a way to do business, and it’s certainly not safe,” Armstrong said.

Underfunding prevents police from doing any preventative work in communities, according to the chairman of the board of NAPS, Mike Metatawabin. He used the catastrophic opioid crisis that’s spreading throughout the region as an example to illustrate his point.

“We’re just putting out fires,” he said.

Metatawabin made an emotional plea to increase services targeting opioid addictions, saying they are having “a very devastating effect on the communities.”

He said it’s important to figure out why so many young people are turning to opioids.

Metatawabin said grandparents in northern Ontario are having to leave their work to take care of grandchildren, because the children’s parents have become addicted.

“We’re losing our young mothers. We need to do something,” he said, deploring the fact that recommendations from inquiries like the MMIWG are non-binding and therefore don’t necessarily bring the change that is needed.

Julia Page · CBC News
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September 18, 2018 / by / in
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