B.C. officials declined to comment on First Nations’ concerns, citing the “active investigation.”
Toronto Star: B.C. First Nations leaders are demanding Indigenous representation in a probe of longstanding allegations RCMP officers sexually harassed and abused Indigenous teenagers and then covered it up.
The external investigation comes after the Star revealed in Novemberthat the RCMP watchdog agency, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), found the police force repeatedly failed to investigate allegations of members suppressing potential evidence that may have incriminated officers.
Late Wednesday, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General announced the province had called in the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) to conduct the investigation. The agency probes incidents where police cause serious injuries or deaths as well as allegations of misconduct. “This should be done properly,” said Judith Sayers, director of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council, after the announcement. The council, which represents First Nations’ interests in the justice system, hadn’t been notified, let alone consulted, she said. “(Minister Mike Farnworth) is just making things worse.”
When contacted by the Star, a spokesperson for the ministry declined to comment on First Nations’ concerns, citing the “active investigation.”
Videotapes allegedly showing misconduct go missing
The independent RCMP watchdog initially waded in after receiving a complaint in 2016 from retired Staff Sergeant Garry Kerr, who went to the commission after spending five years pushing the police force internally to respond to what he dubbed a “cover up.” In 2011, he had reported allegations that evidence — potentially relevant to a previous investigation into complaints that RCMP officers had sexually harassed, assaulted and exploited Indigenous youth in Prince George — had been stolen.
A fellow cop, Lisa Mackenzie, had told Kerr that shortly after divorcing one of the Mounties accused of misconduct in Prince George, she found videotapes allegedly showing officers sexually harassing an Indigenous teenager and committing other misconduct. Her ex-husband, Joseph Kohut, has previously denied any wrongdoing. He didn’t respond to requests for comment from the Star last fall and could not be reached on Friday.
Mackenzie has said she reported the tapes to a senior officer and was instructed to hide them. Shortly afterward, she said, she arrived home to find her door kicked in and the tapes gone.
When she told Kerr, he reported her allegations to the top brass of the B.C. RCMP and later, the commissioner of the police force. If officers were found to have colluded to suppress potential video evidence of alleged harassment, it could amount to criminal conspiracy and obstruction of justice. After years of what Kerr felt was inaction, he filed a complaint to the CRCC.
First Nations representation in probe a “must”
Its blistering findings sparked outrage and calls for the province to intervene. The solicitor general, Farnworth, promised an external investigation in late February.
B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said the investigative team must include First Nations representation. “First Nations people in Prince George have been the target of violence, racism and discrimination by the RCMP for decades,” he said. “These actions are unacceptable from Canada’s national police force, and the individual officers responsible must be held accountable. To do so, we need a member of a B.C. First Nation to be part of this investigation.”
First Nations in B.C. have called for an external investigation into allegations of police wrongdoing for nearly 20 years, since a scandal that rocked the province. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, a provincial court judge in Prince George was sexually assaulting and exploiting Indigenous girls, crimes he pleaded guilty to in 2004. Some of his victims, and others, alleged as many as nine police officers also committed sexual harassment and assault, engaged underaged girls in sexual acts and perpetrated other misconduct. An RCMP investigation into its own officers did not result in charges.
STAR INVESTIGATION A video allegedly showed an RCMP officer sexually harassing an Indigenous teen. Then it went missing. Inside allegations of misconduct and cover-up in Canada’s national police forceNov. 06, 2022
The B.C. First Nations Justice Council has called on the provincial government to release the CRCC report publicly but only received a copy on Sunday — when Kerr gave it to them. The council had planned to discuss how to advise the province to proceed with an external investigation. But they didn’t have time before B.C. announced it had contracted ASIRT.
“They didn’t talk to enough people,” said Sayers. “This is just a gut reaction from Farnworth. He’s known about this for some time and he’s trying to cover his butt.”
Hugh Braker, a member of the political executive of the First Nations Summit that is part of the B.C. First Nations Leadership Council, echoed the need for Indigenous involvement.
“There’s no reason why the government can’t appoint an Indigenous person … to assist in this and oversee,” said Braker. “Without that, I don’t know that it’s going to have any credibility. Indigenous people are jaded when it comes to the government investigating itself, the police investigating themselves.”