The RCMP says it wants to get to the bottom of abuse allegations against its officers in British Columbia involving aboriginal women and girls, but says individuals making the claims must come forward to allow police to conduct a proper investigation.
Those comments followed the release Wednesday of a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch detailing the claims - which include police threats, torture and sexual assault. The report calls on the federal government to launch a national inquiry.
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B.C.'s Highway 16 and a complex of routes linked to it have collectively come to be known as the Highway of Tears
Two researchers - one from Canada and one from the U.S. - spent five weeks last summer in the province's north, visiting 10 communities between Prince George to Prince Rupert and hearing accounts from aboriginal women of alleged mistreatment at the hands of police.
First Nations communities they visited are all linked to B.C.'s so-called "Highway of Tears,"
where 18 women have disappeared over the past several decades.
Meghan Rhoad, a U.S. researcher with Human Rights Watch, told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday she is hopeful the RCMP will take the recommendations seriously.
"We met with the RCMP yesterday, and I am encouraged by the level of seriousness in how they are reviewing this report," Rhoad said.
RCMP Chief Supt. Janice Armstrong said in a statement released Wednesday the force is taking the allegations "very seriously," but added it needs more help to investigate further.
"In a written response to a series of questions posed by Human Rights Watch in fall 2012, the RCMP emphasized the seriousness of allegations of police misconduct and that these allegations must be brought forward for proper investigation.
"We also explained that complaints could be made to the RCMP directly, to the Commission of Public Complaints against the RCMP or to other independent investigative bodies without fear of retaliation."
The researchers interviewed 50 aboriginal women and girls, plus family members and service providers in northern B.C. They heard stories of police pepper-spraying and using Tasers on young aboriginal girls, and of women being strip-searched by male officers.