Elders school RCMP

The "boys" at the RCMP lack training, says Pearl Keenan. "And people are dying because of it. The Teslin elder was speaking at a public meeting in Whitehorse on Tuesday night set up to discuss the relationship between Yukon women and the RCMP.

The “boys” at the RCMP lack training, says Pearl Keenan.

“And people are dying because of it.”

The Teslin elder was speaking at a public meeting in Whitehorse on Tuesday night set up to discuss the relationship between Yukon women and the RCMP.

Even janitors have to go to school for a couple of years to learn how to scrub floors, said Keenan.

“But not our boys.”

“And one just died because he wasn’t trained to put on a life jacket.”

Keenan remembers when the first RCMP showed up in her community, long before the Alaska Highway.

“The Tlingit justice system was so strong, the police came in 1918 and never had to arrest anyone until the 1950s,” she said.

“We were friends with those boys.”

But over the last 80 years, things have changed.

Now, the RCMP is chasing the young people out of the communities, said Keenan, mentioning one young boy who was hassled and pulled over by the police so often, he got fed up and moved away.

“They are using their authority on our young people,” she said.

“And that’s why our young people just hate them.”

Keenan is no stranger to police practices.

She’s been volunteering at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre for years.

And just over a decade ago, the elder was invited to the RCMP training academy in Regina to talk about First Nation culture.

Touring the academy, Keenan ran into a sergeant who was yelling at his young recruits.

“So it’s no wonder they come out of there mean,” she said.

“They train them to be mean.

“Then they take it out on our young people.”

Instead of running after the youth, the RCMP should be focusing on putting an end to violence against women, said Mayo elder Mary Battaja.

“There is a lot of violence against women in our community,” she said.

“Especially against three women who always have black eyes.

“There are babies and children in those homes.

“And I wish the RCMP would do something.”

Battaja is not afraid to dole out just desserts.

She went to visit another village elder and bring her a frozen fish.

But when she got there, the elder was sitting on her bed crying.

Her son had just beaten her up.

Battaja asked the son if it was true, and he admitted it.

So Battaja beat him with the frozen fish.

“We didn’t beat him up too bad, because we didn’t want to get arrested,” she said.

“And now, I hope something happens quick to save these young women and children, because it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Yukon commanding officer Peter Clark attended Tuesday evening’s meeting along with deputy Justice minister Dennis Cooley and Council of Yukon First Nations justice representative Simone Arnold.

The three co-chairs of the police review have attended a lot of meetings over the past months, and for Arnold, the most memorable was a meeting with the women and children who’d taken refuge at Kaushee’s Place, a Whitehorse transition home for women and children fleeing violence.

“The women were brutally honest,” said Arnold.

“And I know I will never be the same.”

Eight women’s groups took part in the Yukon police review, and after hosting a number of meetings in Whitehorse and the communities, two reports were written.

They’re a disturbing read.

A Victim Services worker witnessed four RCMP officers taking off a woman’s shirt, undoing her bra and putting her in the cells topless, it says in My Life Depended on It, a 37-page report written by Lois Moorcroft, representing Yukon women’s groups.

It’s the third time the Victim Services worker witnessed women being stripped and shuffled into cells topless, often by male officers.

“I’ve asked the RCMP how often this happened over the past year,” said Moorcroft during Tuesday’s meeting.

So far, she hasn’t gotten an answer.

“Most of the 37 women who spoke to me, during the police review, indicated that they were afraid to speak publicly or make a complaint to the RCMP,” says Moorcroft in the report.

“Because they believed that if they did, they would face retaliation from RCMP members in their communities.”

One woman, after registering a complaint about the RCMP, found her vehicle was stopped by police every time it was driven.

“She asserted she had to call the most senior ranking officer in the division before police stopped pulling her over on a regular basis following her formal complaint,” says the report.

Another woman, married to a community leader, was beaten up regularly by her husband.

But when the police arrived, they would not take her seriously, or lay charges, says the report.

Only 10 to 25 per cent of women who are abused call the police, said Moorcroft.

“And if they don’t feel safe to call the police, then there are no repercussions for the violence.”

During the meeting at Kaushee’s, women spoke of “anger and outrage when they were unfairly charged for defending themselves against their aggressors,” she said.

One of the recommendations in the report is to create primary aggressor legislation – to help assess who initiated the violence in domestic violence complaints.

It also recommends an independent legal advocate position to help victims of violence and women charged with offences.

Other recommendations include abolishing Taser use and that every RCMP wear a video camera to record public interactions.

The RCMP is already looking at various video-camera options, said Clark.

RCMP should also have a ride-along program so First Nation leaders, community members and social service agencies can get a firsthand feel for policing in the community, says the report.

“Numerous reports are done and they’re gathering dust,” said Vuntut Gwichin elder Agnes Mills.

“And I’m very cynical about how we’re going to accomplish what the women of the Yukon have worked so hard on.”

The common theme is training, said Arnold.

“And as women we never give up on men,” she said.

“The police need more education, skills and training – that’s what I’ve heard a lot.

“And we won’t give up on them.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at