The Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS), which serves 34 First Nations communities in northern Ontario, is set to present new “trauma-informed” video training for its officers to help sexual assault victims.
Research indicates more than half of Indigenous women in Canada will experience some form of sexual assault, or abuse, in their lifetime.
However, according to Statistics Canada, only six per cent of sexual assault survivors will ever come forward.
Sgt. Det. Alana Morrison – a 20-year veteran of the NAPS and the lead on their sexual assault support program – says new officers often lack proper training, and as a result, survivors often feel “rushed, bombarded, or judged” when making a report.
“In the policing world, we got so far away from – in my opinion – treating people like they’re human, I hate to say it,” Morrison explained. “It shouldn’t be the colour of someone’s skin, it shouldn’t be their social status – it should just be the fact that they were traumatized, and then given that time to rest, and giving them time to slowly remember what they remember, and how they felt.
“As opposed to a quickly rushed statement, a statement that alludes to the fact that it was their fault. Things like that.”
Through this new program, officers will have access to three-hour-long videos focusing on the process of taking statements from victims.
One module is focused specifically on Indigenous sexual trauma.
The interview videos are then followed by commentary and analysis from lawyers, and trauma specialists, as well as reflections from the officer(s) and complainants involved.
Morrison says this self-reflective process is a step towards mending the distrust between Indigenous people and police.
“The first, initial meeting with any victim – be they Indigenous or not – will set the tone for the rest of the work you’re going to do with the victim or survivor,” she added.
However, Morrison feels Winnipeg police’s handling of the recent serial murders of four Indigenous women may set this agenda back.
“I hate to say this, but it’s kind of taking away from the work that we’re trying to do here,” Morrison told APTN’s Nation to Nation. “As in repairing relationships between police, and trying to restore that trust from a survivor about police officers – that we’re not all judgemental, we’re not all full of misinformation and stereotypes, and that there is a large percentage of us out there who actually do care and want to help.”
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The video training modules will be uploaded to the Ontario Police Video Training Alliance website by the end of January.
Morrison and her cohorts hope they will be adopted – and adapted – for other police forces across the country.
“As a police officer, when you slow down, when you take your time and really know your case – that’s when you’re going to have the best success in the court,” she added.
Policing, health care, and MMIWG ombudsperson on the radar for 2023
Speaking to Nation to Nation, Indigenous Reconciliation Group CEO, and Hill Times columnist Rose Lemay says she’s “horrified” and “disgusted” by the way the Winnipeg Police Service has responded to the recent spate of murders of homeless Indigenous women.
“If this were sons and daughters – and this is a horrible thing to say – if it were kids of parliamentarians, we never would have received this answer: ‘oh well, too difficult, too expensive, can’t search.’”
Policing – particularly the need for sustained funding for Indigenous police services – is one of the issues Lemay is keeping an eye on moving forward into 2023.
“As we look at issues with the RCMP, with other police services across Canada – there’s a lot to be learned from First Nations policing if it were adequately funded, and given enough freedom to do what it does very well,” Lemay explained.
MMIWG is also an issue of interest on Lemay’s radar in 2023.
While Canada recently appointed a representative to oversee the creation of an MMIWG ombudsperson’s office, Lemay feels the “devil will be in the details.”
“[The ombudsperson’s office] will likely have influence over the Federal government – the question is whether or not it will have an influence on provinces or territories. The question is whether it will have influence over local police forces all across the country,” she added.
And though there are questions swirling about the application of pending Federal Bill C-29 – and the creation of a proposed Reconciliation Advisory Council – Lemay says she believes 2023 will be a good year for reconciliation.
“This is a year where I really feel think that Indigenous voice and leadership will be valued,” she added.
“I think this is the year that Canadians start to value and recognize the importance of Indigenous voice and leadership for all of us – for all Canadians.”