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The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is launching an investigation after a Human Rights Watch report was released earlier this year. (CBC)

The civilian watchdog that oversees Canada’s national police force says it will investigate allegations of abuse against the RCMP in northern B.C.

The complaints — in the report released earlier this year by New York-based Human Rights Watch — include police threats, torture and sexual assault.

In a statement posted on the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP’s website, interim chair Ian McPhail said he has reasonable grounds to begin an investigation.

According to the statement, the commission’s investigation will include cross-gender police searches, the handling of missing persons reports and use of force.

Richard Evans, the commission's director of operations, said there will be a thorough review of the cases.

"When it comes to looking at some of the issues raised in the Human Rights Watch report, we don't have to just rely on what people are telling us," he said. "We'll be able to go into the RCMP files and examine them as well."

But Meghan Rhoad, who co-authored the Human Rights Watch report, said the commission is in a conflict of interest.

"A big piece of the report is looking at the access that victims of abuses have to a remedy when things do go wrong," she said.

"So some of the women and girls we spoke with actually talked about problems they had with the commission."

Rhoad also said the scope of the complaints commission's investigation doesn't allow it to look into criminal allegations.

"The recommendations that come out of them — assuming that the investigation itself is effective — the recommendations that come out of such an investigation will not be binding [on] the RCMP."

'Questionable' force

The Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 50 aboriginal women and girls, plus family members and service providers in northern B.C. They heard stories of police pepper-spraying and using Tasers on young aboriginal girls, and of women being strip-searched by male officers.

The report suggests some of the accounts of harm done to women and girls appear to be the result of poor policing tactics, over-aggressive policing and insensitivity to victims.

Human Rights Watch documented eight incidents of police physically assaulting or using "questionable" force against girls under 18.

The report also contains troubling and graphic allegations of physical and sexual abuse, including from a woman, identified as homeless, who describes how police took her outside of town and raped her.

The RCMP has said it is taking the allegations in the report seriously, but needs to investigate further.