The interrogation scene is so “other-worldly” that you feel you are watching out-takes from a poorly rehearsed TV crime series like NCIS or Blue Bloods. Yet to the young teenage Indigenous woman being “interviewed” the filmed footage is anything but a fantasy. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and Global News recently released footage of an interrogation which took place seven years ago between a West Kelowna RCMP officer and a teenager who claimed she had been the victim of a sexual assault, or rape as it is now less delicately but more accurately named. After the foster parents had taken her to the local hospital, she was then accompanied by two British Colombia government social workers and delivered up to the local RCMP detachment where said RCMP officer subjected her to well over two hours of highly questionable questioning. For most of that time period she was in that room alone, frightened, clearly distressed and with no support from either her foster parents or the social workers from the BC child welfare system whose supposed mission in life is to protect vulnerable children and teens.
When you follow the narrative initiated by the officer, the brow-beating and leading questions, it becomes clear very quickly from his totally inappropriate insinuations that the officer is highly suspicious of her claim of rape. Worse, you get the creepy feeling that the interrogating officer is a voyeur getting vicarious pleasure from “probing” the veracity of her statements with suggestions that she invited and may have perhaps enjoyed the assault. There appears to be no benefit from any doubt in this officer’s mind.
What is equally disturbing is the revelation that this remarkable incident captured on video happened seven years ago. It is now surfacing only because the victim is now a complainant in a civil suit against the BC Ministry of Child and Family Development and the two social workers charged to care for her well-being. Further allegations against the ministry and the two social workers which have yet to be proven in a court of law suggest a tangled scheme of punishments and fraudulent financial transactions which deprived this Indigenous teen of extracurricular activities and exposed her to greater risk. In other words, no one believed her and there is little evidence that the RCMP followed up by investigating her allegations. But this is almost an unfortunate sideshow to the main event that most certainly requires a full investigation.
The APTN/Global-released video of the interaction between the young Indigenous woman is most disturbing and compelling. The “interrogation,” verbal sexual assault and criminalization of this young woman in obvious distress by an RCMP constable is beyond shock and awe – it is outrageous.
And, oh, should we mention again that she is Indigenous?
The video is not photo-shopped and the faces of the two proponents, the interrogating officer and the frightened, stammering teen are appropriately vaselined-out. It is difficult to watch but we invite you to draw your own conclusions from this startling interaction.
Is this the “culture” we have come to expect from our national police force; one that assumes or implies that if the victim of rape or sexual assault is Indigenous that she is more than likely “asking for it,” or that she “subconsciously enjoyed it – even if just a little bit” as the RCMP officer appears to imply? This is not a culture; it is a cult within the RCMP. It demands an independent investigation far beyond the crude and ignorant tactics of a police officer who obviously missed sensitivity training at the RCMP training school in Regina. This kind of corrosive behaviour is completely unacceptable and needs to be rooted out of this national institution. If a lawsuit against the RCMP follows in the wake of this reprehensible interrogation, and if the RCMP loses the case, it is the Canadian taxpayer who will ultimately foot the bill. What will this cost the offending officer? A transfer? A promotion? Nothing out of his pocket? Perhaps keeping quiet is another definition of keeping the peace!
Beverly Sabourin retired as the Vice-Provost of Indigenous Initiatives at Lakehead University and is a member of the Pic Mobert Ojibwe. Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Indigenous Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. They are the Principal Officers of BASA, an Indigenous consulting firm working in the fields of environment, education, strategic planning and advocacy. They invite your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org