Indigenous women face higher rates of systemic discrimination, violence by RCMP, says report

The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action says there is “growing evidence of systemic discrimination and violence” against women by the national police force.

Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action wants external review of RCMP on how it treats women

A Yukon RCMP officer ties a red ribbon symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women to a staff outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on May 5. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

A new report by a coalition of human rights advocates is calling on the federal government to establish an independent external review of Canada's national police force to address its treatment of women.

Published May 9, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) says its report finds there is "growing evidence of systemic discrimination and violence" against women by the national police force. According to the 56-page document, Indigenous women are disproportionately impacted.

"Indigenous women and girls have long been targets of sexualized violence and exploitation at the hands of state actors, including the police," said Pamela Palmater, a Mi'kmaw lawyer and chair in Indigenous governance at Toronto Metropolitan University, during a virtual news conference Monday.

Palmater researched and co-wrote the report with Sivangi Misra, Ashley Major, and Shelagh Day of FAFIA. The report was funded in part by the federal government's Department for Women and Gender Equality. 

The organization, which is made up of women's human rights advocacy organizations across Canada, compiled and analyzed news reports, public inquiries, and documents published in the last decade. The report says they show evidence of a pattern of discrimination, harassment, and assault against women by officers of the RCMP.

FAFIA wants a review to address how the RCMP treats women both as an employer and service provider.

A woman with brown hair is crouching down holding a feather.
Pamela Palmater, originally from Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, researched and co-wrote the report with Sivangi Misra, Ashley Major, and Shelagh Day. (Lisa MacIntosh)

In an emailed statement to CBC News, an RCMP spokesperson said the force is aware of the report.

"The RCMP is subject to review by a number of external review bodies," the statement continued.

"As we've demonstrated in the past on a variety of subjects, we welcome any examination that could improve our operations. While acknowledging there remains much to do, the RCMP has been active in implementing change."

The report was submitted to federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Women and Gender Equality and Youth Minister Marci Ien. 

In an emailed statement, the minister of Public Safety wrote "There is absolutely no place for misogyny, harassment or violence within the RCMP or in Canadian society."

"For too long, there has been a culture within the RCMP that is permissive of systemic inequities and has led to misogyny, discrimination, harassment and workplace violence."

The statement said the ministry is implementing reforms by creating the Independent Centre for Harassment Resolution, strengthening oversight of the RCMP's Management Advisory Board and ensuring that the RCMP's workforce is more reflective of the diversity of the country.

The ministry of Women and Gender Equality and Youth has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Land defenders 'vilified'

Palmater said a culture of misogyny and racism in the RCMP was made evident by former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache's 2020 findings in his report on the implementation of the Merlo-Davidson Settlement, on the sexual harassment of RCMP employees. 

"If female RCMP officers are not safe from sexual assaults by male officers, it should be no surprise that marginalized Indigenous women and girls are not safe either," said Palmater.

The study also cites other reports, including the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as evidence of the RCMP's failure to prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls, and failure to thoroughly investigate their disappearances and deaths.

It also says Indigenous land defenders, many of whom are women, are "vilified, surveilled, criminalized, and subjected to violence by the RCMP" by being arrested and forcibly removed from their territories.

"These acts and failures violate women's right to equality and non-discrimination," said Shelagh Day, the chair of FAFIA's human rights committee.

Shelagh Day is the chair of the human rights committee of FAFIA. (Submitted by Shelagh Day)

"Canada cannot have a credible national action plan on violence against women or a credible national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls until the culture of misogyny and racism in the RCMP is rooted out."

"The systemic issues that this report raises, as well as the many instances, sadly of and horrifically of discrimination, are echoed in a number of institutions right now in this country, military, prisons, as well as within the police," said Sen. Kim Pate at the news conference.

"While there has been a lot of effort to try and address these issues, we see the very real need for the kinds of calls for accountability and oversight that FAFIA has brought forward."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.