Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Posted: March 7, 2013 by wrighter12 in RCMP Accountability and Oversight

Broken, undermined, mistreated, victimized. These may be descriptors of how many aboriginal woman have felt, and are still feeling, due to alleged abuse by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In a report released by the Human Rights Watch, many alleged accounts of assault (including sexual), threats, and abuse were compiled and collected. Human Rights Watch is an organization driven to protect the rights of those who are mistreated, abused, or otherwise neglected of their rights (Human Rights Watch, 2013). Representatives visited aboriginal communities in northern British Columbia, including “all linked to B.C.’s so-called “Highway of Tears,” where 18 women have disappeared over the past several decades” (CBC News, 2013), to investigate claims of mistreatment of aboriginal woman at the hands of the RCMP. Although the names of the woman as well as the officers being accused were not released in the report, the Human Rights Watch is calling for a provincial, as well as a national inquiry. In response the RCMP intends to investigate these allegations but stated they will require the names of the accusers as well as those accused in order to complete a full investigation into these claims. The response further details that formal complaints could have been made through the Commission of Public Complaints, who handle and investigate accusations such as these. The article and RCMP response can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2013/02/12/bc-human-rights-watch-abuse-report.html

As many individuals encounter different articles that involve this report by the Human Rights Watch, a number of people can undoubtedly recall at least one, if not more accounts in which an RCMP officer is facing ‘heat’ surrounding deviant acts or abuse of power somewhere in Canada. Many videos have surfaced across news channels and have been posted on many websites to be viewed, with comments that push for officers to face consequences and sanctions for their actions. This has been a common theme among social media sites because most people would not want this abuse happening to them. Of course, after reading such horrible accusations against the RCMP I would think that large numbers of people would call for the support of this report and for the RCMP to face consequences. To my surprise, the comments in response to this article were seemingly the opposite of what I expected. Few comments seemed to actually support the report, while many stood behind ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The common theme that emerged were that this report is only making allegations against the RCMP, and without the release of the names of victims or those accused then these alleged acts will remain how they began, as allegations. Various comments notion that few do not represent the majority, and that a few ‘bad apples’ do not make up those who represent the RCMP with dignity, integrity, and respect to the communities they watch over. Allegations do not constitute criminal punishment.

In response to the article, as well as the comments I have read, I hold a very ‘Switzerland’ like stance or neutral stance. Yes, a common theme of police brutality has emerged throughout the years, calling for the punishment of these individuals. With this theme it is hard not to believe the number of allegations being made in regards to the treatment of aboriginal woman in northern BC. However, as many of the comments point out, this report contains allegations against the RCMP with no release of victims or those being accused. Yes, by all means collect and investigate these allegations, hopefully with the assistance of the Human Rights Watch and a list of the individuals involved. Nevertheless, the law does state ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

References:

RCMP accused of rape in report on B.C. aboriginal women. In the CBC News. Retrieved on march 5th, 2013 from

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2013/02/12/bc-human-rights-watch-abuse-report.html

Human Rights Watch. About Us. Retrieved on March 5th, 2013 from

http://www.hrw.org/about

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    Interesting post.

    I have two thoughts to offer in response.

    First, note the way that the reproduction of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ narrative reflects what I have called the biographical-atomistic approach to police deviance. It operates according to a police accountability paradigm that deals with incidents and cases (which involve allegations, an identified suspect, and legal proceedings). It makes sense that someone operating within this paradigm (and it is the default perspective) to react to the HRW report with skepticism and even disdain. Crucially, an adversarial, legalistic, and individualistic paradigm does not equip us with a vocabulary for critically thinking about and acting on systemic or structural problems. The biographical-atomistic approach, wile compatible with the legal system (and with the discourse of ‘bad apples’), has a difficult time of making sense of organizational problems.

    Second, and on a related note, we have to make sure that we do not conflate different objectives and processes when thinking about this issue. On the one hand, we can speak about accountability at the level of individual officers and specific incidents. Here, the presumption of innocence is in effect and there is an expectation of due process. On the other hand, we can speak about accountability at a broader level – as it relates to trends, relationships between organizations and communities, public perception, and systemic problems. Accountability at this level involves identifying and addressing the root causes of problems, explaining trends, and designing and implementing organizational reforms.

    The HRW report is ultimately aimed at the latter level of concern. The stubborn insistence on hammering the round peg of systemic problems into the square hole of individual cases is itself a barrier to accountability.

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