Do police in Alberta abuse their power vis a vis Aboriginal women and girls? Albertans have urgent need to know

A letter to Premier Notley and Minister Ganley:

November 6, 2015

Dear Premier Notley and Minister Ganley,

Re:  Need for government action to assess whether police in Alberta abuse their power vis à vis Aboriginal women and girls

Recent news from Val d’Or, Quebec, has brought the painful subject of our society’s failure to protect Aboriginal women’s and girls’ human rights once again to the fore.  Your government has expressed support for a national inquiry into murder and missing Aboriginal women.  That is good – and the Green Party of Alberta supports a national inquiry as well.  But assuming the new federal government launches such an inquiry, as the Prime Minister has promised to do, that inquiry will not be completed any time soon.

On the other hand there is an urgent need to find out whether police in Alberta abuse their power vis à vis Aboriginal women and girls in rural and northern Alberta.  Accordingly I am writing on behalf of the Green Party of Alberta to encourage your government to undertake a more limited, but nevertheless vital, investigation:  we need to know whether Alberta police have abused their power in the humiliation, assault, extortion and other mistreatments of Aboriginal women and girls.  We know this has been the case in northern BC, is now is alleged to have taken place in Quebec and is likely to have occurred in other parts of Canada.

Fannie Lafontaine has been appointed to oversee the Montreal police probe in Val-d'Or.

(Above photo: Fannie Lafontaine, lawyer and professor at Laval University in Quebec City, appointed by premier of Quebec to oversee investigation by Montreal police of allegations of abuse in Val d’Or.)

I am not suggesting that such an investigation proceed on the assumption that police in Alberta have been guilty of the same behaviours.  But Albertans need to know whether this type of abuse of power happens in our province and, if it does, we need to know that decisive steps will be taken to stop it.

The word “investigation” may suggest an excessive degree of formality, at least at the outset.  The process could initially be framed as a consultation – a consultation with Aboriginal women and girls about how the police figure in their lives, how the police are perceived by them – whether they are trusted or feared – and the like.

Tragically, Aboriginal people in Canada are treated unfairly in many different ways.  But both of you are lawyers and thus will readily appreciate the uniquely serious nature of abuse of power by police.  What could be more terrifying and disempowering than to be targeted for abuse by the very people who are supposed to protect you from harm?

It is no exaggeration to say that where the police abuse their power in these ways, Aboriginal girls and women are being denied the rule of law.

I am assuming it is more likely that abuse of this kind occurs in rural and northern Alberta, where it is easier than in urban areas for unethical police to avoid detection.  So I couch our request that a consultation be launched in terms of rural and in particular northern parts of the province.  But once such a process begins, any indication that abuse occurs in our towns and cities would also have to be pursued.

And of course, if evidence of abuse of Aboriginal men and boys comes to light, it should also be vigorously pursued.

Such a consultation would have to be done very carefully and ideally in some sort of cooperation with police agencies.  Beyond that, we have no precise guidelines to offer for such a process.

The bottom line:  it is wrong for the Alberta government to sit back and wait for Aboriginal women and girls in the province to take the initiative in this very precarious context.  The onus is on your government, on behalf of all Albertans, to take the first step.


Janet Keeping

Leader, Green Party of Alberta

cc:  Brian Jean, Leader, Wildrose Party, Official Opposition;  Ric McIver, Interim Leader, Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta;  David Swann, Interim Leader, Alberta Liberal Party;  Greg Clark, Leader, Alberta Party


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