The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) is responding to a report examining the treatment of Indigenous woman by Saskatchewan law enforcement.
The 32-page report from New-York-based Human Rights Watch said the group documented 64 cases of alleged violent abuse during a visit last year to the province that included talks with indigenous women and social workers.
It cited Indigenous women in Saskatchewan have been subjected to violence, invasive strip searches and other mistreatment by police.
Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill addressed media Monday afternoon, saying he takes the concerns very seriously and won’t deny the vulnerability of Indigenous women.
He did, however, take issue with the report’s lack of specifics.
“I have no way to go back and check and see what did happen, or try to make amends to the person,” he said, noting specific dates for incidents weren’t provided.
“They could have happened 20 years ago, 10 years ago, they could have happened last year. We don’t know.”
When asked about a specific allegation in the report, which claimed a woman was violently thrown into her jail cell and stripped of her clothes, Weighill said he “hoped it didn’t happen that way.”
The police chief noted everything that happens in the SPS detention cells is audio and video recorded, and if they had a date and time they would be able to look back for any potential misconduct.
Weighill also said the report was “one-sided” and didn’t take into account the steps police services have made since the Stonechild inquiry to improve how they handle Indigenous cases.
“All it does is add to the angst people have,” he said. “Because they have no balance to it, the next conclusion people jump to is things are chaotic here – and they’re not.”
He refuted allegations of male officers conducting strip searches of Indigenous women, saying SPS have female officers on duty 24-7 and on-hand to do such searches.
“There is no reason a male would do a strip search of a female,” he said.
The police chief said they were contacted in November by Human Rights Watch about the report, and they responded with detailed answers to 37 questions submitted by the organization.
Regina Police said they did something similar, but none of their answers made it into the report.
Human Rights Watch Canada Director Farida Deif said they only included “relevant” information in the report.
A Saskatoon police release Monday outlined the following points the SPS said Human Rights Watch did not discuss as examples of positive changes that have taken place:
- The implementation of all recommendations from the Stonechild Inquiry.
- Indigenous Chair of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners.
- The creation of the Action Accord on Intoxicated Persons in partnership with the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, the Saskatoon Health Region and the Lighthouse. The accord has reduced the number of persons incarcerated for public intoxication.
- The recently unveiled memorial to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls which was erected outside the SPS Headquarters building and partnered with the Saskatoon Tribal Council.
- Doubling the number of Indigenous Police Officers.
- Creation of Indigenous Victim Service Workers.
- Creation of Indigenous Missing Person Liaison.
- The creation of an Indigenous Relations Consultants position and expansion of the Cultural Resource Unit.
- A complete revision to the methodology of handling and investigation of missing persons.
- Intensive education for all members regarding Indigenous history and culture.
- A long standing Chief’s Elders Advisory Committee.
- Regularly scheduled lunch and learns and Elder’s teachings.
- The creation of the Race Against Racism.
- The Saskatoon Police Advisory Committee on Diversity.
– With files from The Canadian Press and 650 CKOM’s Chris Vandenbreekel.