The chief of the Winnipeg police service apologized to Indigenous women Thursday for how they have been treated by his force.
“Indigenous women were not treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” Chief Danny Smyth told the commissioners.
“As the chief of the Winnipeg police service I offer my apologies for past conduct and policies that contributed to harming Indigenous women and girls.”
Winnipeg has one of the highest Indigenous populations in the country.
Smyth says it’s a population that has not been served well, but that Winnipeg Police are making efforts to rectify that by working more with frontline workers and taking more of harm reduction approach.
Harm reduction is something Rachel Willan says could’ve helped her back in the day.
She told the inquiry that the only way she survived the sex trade and the pimp she worked under was with the help of friends.
“Women defended me. Women locked the door,” she told the inquiry.
“All held the door because they wouldn’t let him into the door where I was, while I was hiding in a closet filled with dirty clothes and needles. Hiding from him.”
This was just one of the harrowing stories Willan recounted from her life on the streets of Winnipeg.
A life that started with sexual abuse, 53 child service placements – then eventually the sex trade, drugs, and prison.
The Metis woman escaped with the help of her current husband.
“It doesn’t take anybody, a rocket scientist to know what it takes to surround a woman with love and have her exit on her own,” she said.
“And you know what, they find themselves because I did.”
Diane Redsky has devoted the last 25 years of her life to combating sexual exploitation.
The Ojibway woman from Shoal Lake First Nation was part of a 2014 task force to end sex trafficking.
“What we learned was that the biggest risk factor to sex trafficking is just being a girl,” she said. “Right off the bat, if you are a girl you are already at risk.
“The common recruitment age is 13, and I’ll tell you something when I first started doing this work 25 years ago the average age was 16.”
Redsky is now based in Winnipeg where she said there is a specific market for vulnerable Indigenous women.
She said the longer a woman is sexually exploited – the shorter her life expectancy.
The inquiry will now hold two dates for final submissions to be made by those individuals or groups with standing.
The final report is due April 30, 2019.