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B.C. orders probe into allegations RCMP dropped ball investigating abuse of Indigenous girls

The provincial government has ordered an external investigation after an independent report found the RCMP failed to properly investigate what one officer described as potentially “egregious” allegations that Mounties had abused and harassed Indigenous girls in Prince George, B.C., decades ago.

A statement on Thursday confirmed the province will be launching a “full, independent, out-of-jurisdiction investigation into the troubling complaints” detailed in the report from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), which responds to complaints about the RCMP the public believes weren’t handled correctly.

“The RCMP has confirmed they will fully co-operate with the investigation, including providing all their records to the external agency — which will be announced in the coming weeks,” read the emailed statement from Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, whose ministry oversees the RCMP.

“Our government is absolutely committed to ending systemic violence against Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQ+ people, and vulnerable persons, particularly in the cases which involve the police, and there still remains work to be done.”

The new investigation is the latest step in a case described as “scandal, layered on scandal, layered on scandal,” snowballing from accusations of police wrongdoing in the early 2000s to allegations of a coverup by high-ranking police officers in the country’s largest police force — a mess only made public when a veteran officer refused to let the matter drop after his original complaint went largely unaddressed. 

“I do want to see those officers all accountable by whatever means possible … the public needs to know, First Nations needs to know: Why did they do what they did? Or, quite frankly, didn’t do,” said retired Staff Sgt. Garry Kerr, whose complaint led to the CRCC report.

“This is a place to start.”

A man with grey hair wearing a blue polo shirt leans over a kitchen table.
Retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Garry Kerr is pictured during a CBC interview in 2016. Kerr reported allegations of misconduct involving other Mounties to top brass in 2011, according to a report. (CBC)

Allegations first reported to top brass in 2011

Kerr, now 62, was sitting at home in coastal B.C. around dinnertime when he heard a few of the words he’d been waiting to hear his entire retired life: an official in power, a provincial minister, was ordering what Kerr saw to be a proper investigation into allegations he’d been ringing the alarm on since 2011.

“I applaud the province for taking the steps they have and announcing that it will be an outside agency. That is the absolute right thing to do,” he said. “Here is an opportunity — albeit many, many years late.”

The CRCC report, first reported on by the Toronto Star, revealed the details of the scandal for the first time.

The case began for Kerr when he received a phone call from a junior officer in Kamloops, B.C., where they were both stationed at the time in 2011. The constable told Kerr she’d found videotapes in her basement years earlier showing fellow officers, including her ex-husband, harassing an Indigenous teenager on the streets of Prince George.

She alleged all but one of the incriminating tapes went missing after her ex-husband reportedly broke into her home in 2006, according to a copy of the CRCC report shared with CBC News.

The allegations were connected to a lengthy list of accusations that RCMP officers, including the constable’s ex-husband and a provincial court judge in the central B.C. city had assaulted underage sex workers between 2000 and 2004. The judge, David Ramsay, was convicted and later died in prison.

A man with white hair in a black suit and glasses is pictured.
David Ramsay pleaded guilty in 2004 after being accused of sexually assaulting Indigenous girls who had appeared before him when he was a provincial court judge in Prince George, B.C. (CBC)

Alleged video now lost, reports say

After finding the alleged tapes, the junior officer had called Kerr looking for somebody she could trust. Kerr, a 30-year veteran of the force, took their concerns straight to the top of the chain of command in an email to the B.C. RCMP’s assistant commissioner that night.

The CRCC report said top brass agreed both officers needed to be interviewed, but no one took their statements until months later, in December 2011.

After the interview, the constable gave an investigator the sole videotape she still had from her basement. She said it didn’t contain any footage of alleged misconduct by her ex-husband but footage of his previous wife.

A chief superintendent with the RCMP later told the CRCC he watched the tape and concluded it wasn’t connected to any allegations of police wrongdoing, but the commission couldn’t find any record to confirm the senior officer ever watched the footage.

Mounties later told the commission the tape has since been “misplaced.”

Kerr retired from the RCMP in 2012. He filed his complaint with the CRCC in 2015, claiming superior officers had failed to properly investigate the allegations raised four years earlier.

The CRCC ultimately found the allegations could amount to criminal charges related to obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy or misconduct under the RCMP’s own Code of Conduct. It said any of the alleged videotapes could be considered “supporting evidence of his suspected criminal conduct with underaged sex workers in Prince George.”

Still, the commission did not find any evidence “that anyone was clearly designated to lead an inquiry into [Kerr’s] report of [the constable’s] allegations or that a file was created to track the matter.”

A man in a navy suit and blue tie stands at a podium
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth speaks at a news conference on Nov. 24. Farnworth’s ministry is responsible for delivering public safety services in B.C. and oversees police across the province. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Calls for public inquiry

“It’s a horrifying story,” said Prof. Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, who described the case as a multi-layered “scandal.”

“The most important resource any police force has is the confidence and trust of the public. So when nothing happens when a brave colleague reports to superior officers [up] the line of command, that is profoundly corrosive — not only to police ethics but the integrity of the entire justice system.”

Kerr received a written apology from RCMP Comm. Brenda Lucki in 2021. On Friday, B.C. RCMP Staff Sgt. Kris Clark said the force is “very concerned” about the complaints alleging a lack of action about historical allegations and that the force will “fully co-operate” with the independent probe.

An RCMP police vehicle in Prince George, B.C. in February 2023.
The provincial government has ordered an external, out-of-jurisdiction investigation after a report found B.C. RCMP failed to properly investigate allegations of wrongdoing against its own. (Kate Partridge/CBC)

Speaking to the CRCC report, Kerr was at a loss for words.

“The truth was that the RCMP simply buried this for whatever reason, and to me, that is unconscionable. It’s something that to me, it’s so egregious, that those people, those RCMP officers who are all now retired, need to be held accountable by First Nations people in B.C.,” he said.

Kerr and Schafer agreed they’d like to see the officers answer for their actions, or lack thereof, at a public inquiry.

“There are two things that I want to come out of what’s going on right now. Number one: I want justice for any of these young First Nations girls that were [allegedly] abused and want that investigated properly. Number two: I want RCMP to be held accountable by First Nations people in the province.”

“If that does come out of it after all these years, then the last 12 years of my life … will have been worth it.”

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