The Saskatchewan RCMP has denied its relationship with Indigenous communities is "deeply fractured" after a Human Rights Watch report called for the creation of a special investigative unit to look at allegations of violence by police in the province.
During detailed interviews with 64 Saskatchewan Indigenous women last year, Human Rights Watch said it uncovered dozens of claims of police misconduct, including-overly intrusive strip searches, excessive use of force, racial profiling and sexual harassment.
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Human Rights Watch Canada director Farida Deif said at a news conference on Monday that her group had found evidence of a "deeply fractured" relationship between police and Indigenous communities.
In a response issued on Monday, Saskatchewan RCMP commanding officer Curtis Zablocki refuted that claim.
"In my time here as the commanding officer, I can tell you this is not the case," he said.
"In Saskatchewan there are many examples of positive relationships between the RCMP and Indigenous communities.
"Positive relationships are the norm and continuing to build and grow with our Aboriginal communities is a priority for the RCMP in Saskatchewan."
Claims to be investigated
Zablocki said the allegations of misconduct and the abuse of Indigenous women by police demanded a "full and thorough" investigation.
The RCMP will carefully examine the report's call for systemic change, he said.
Zablocki went on to note some of the training and programming related to Aboriginal and First Nations perceptions, cultural sensitivity and human rights.
He said the RCMP had made recruitment of Indigenous officers a priority, with mentorship programs to assist potential Indigenous recruits.
"In Saskatchewan, the RCMP are engaged with Indigenous communities at all levels, from our local detachments, to our district management to our senior managers," said Zablocki.
"I have an aboriginal advisory committee consisting of elders from across our First Nations communities."
He said he would ask those advisors to provide input and feedback on the recommendations of the Human Rights Watch report.
Searches not taken lightly: Zablocki
One of those recommendations was to end body or "frisk" searches of women and girls by male police officers in "all but extraordinary circumstances."
Zablocki said police officers have the authority to place people under arrest, search them and detain them, describing the searches as high risk activities that police do not take lightly.
"It is important we do everything we can to preserve a person's privacy and dignity while in our custody, at the same time ensuring the safety of the subject, other detainees, and police officers involved," he said.
"To further strengthen this expectation, we made changes last August to our personal search policy in order to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to preserve a person's privacy and dignity."
Zablocki concluded his statement by saying he truly values relationships with Indigenous people, and that the men and women of the RCMP do the same.
Senior police officers from city police forces in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert also responded to the report claims on Monday.