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Neither served nor protected

A woman approaching a police officer should not be an act of courage./ Jeremy Crimson Mann
A woman approaching a police officer should not be an act of courage./ Jeremy Crimson Mann

RCMP make a mockery of justice by defending abuse of power.

Author: Sonia Stanger

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, much has been made, and rightfully so, of our universal freedom to speak. Sometimes, though, I think we forget about the distinction between “freedom to” and “freedom from,” and I wonder if we forget the latter altogether. Is there not, as important as freedom to speak, a need for freedom from oppression, freedom from systemic violence? Unfortunately, these are not extended to all Canadians, and it is consistently the same groups of people to whom they are denied.

In 2011, RCMP Constable Kevin Theriault took home a woman he had arrested for intoxication only six hours before. Other officers report seeing Theriault flirt with the woman, who is from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Manitoba, throughout the night. After his shift, he went home, changed out of his uniform and returned, convincing the senior officer to release her to him. According to the CBC, the officer is reported to have said, “You arrested her; you can do whatever the fuck you want.” So he did. You may have read articles stating that Theriault took her home “to pursue a personal relationship,” but that is a sick euphemism. What happened here is more nefarious. Theriault was in a position of extreme power, and the woman whose freedom he violated was under his supposed protection. She is not an object; she does not belong to him. That shouldn’t need saying, but apparently it does.

The revelation of this heinous act, after the matter was internally reviewed by the RCMP, came only weeks after Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated outright in his year-end interview for 2014 that missing and murdered Indigenous women are not a priority for his government. Harper said to CBC chief news anchor Peter Mansbridge that “… it isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest. Our ministers will continue to dialogue with those who are concerned about this.”

But we should all be concerned. The violence perpetrated against Indigenous women in this country is an epidemic, and instances like Harper’s dismissal and Theriault’s abuse are telling snapshots of the system that has allowed thousands of Aboriginal, Métis, and Inuit women to disappear, often without record or serious investigation. Theriault received only a seven-day suspension without pay for his infraction. And, we wonder why Aboriginal communities might have mistrust for law enforcement.

That woman is a person. She is a person with a family. She is a person with thoughts and feelings, and they matter. She is a person whose story matters. All of the countless women who have gone missing or been killed: their stories matter. Indigenous women deserve freedom from the horrors and the erasure that they face, just as we all deserve the freedom to feel protected by the systems that claim to protect us. When Kevin Theriault receives only a slap on the wrist for his gross abuse of power, what message does it send to the members of the First Nation on which he works? If colonial Canada and the powers-that-be in this country do not stop sending the message that Aboriginal women are disposable, what will the consequences be? What message does it send to those women themselves?

The treatment of Indigenous peoples in this country is a disgrace. How many more mothers, daughters, friends, and sisters will we allow to disappear? When our grandchildren look back at this time of crisis, will it be with shame, with anger, and with sorrow? And when we herald freedom, who is it for?

 

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