Civil proceedings have been undertaken in the case of a 17-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted while she was handcuffed in the back seat of a police truck.
In September 2011, the only police officer on duty in Tasiujaq, Quebec, an Inuit community of roughly 300 inhabitants and three police officers, received a call to remove a heavily intoxicated young girl from a family party. According to court documents obtained by La Presse, the teen's hands were cuffed behind her back and she was put in the back seat of a police truck next to Joe Kritik, who had also been arrested for an alcohol-related disturbance that night. Kritik, 25, a repeat sex offender with four prior sexual assault convictions, was not cuffed.
The Kativik Regional Police Force (KRPF) officer, who had one month of policing experience and wasn't even allowed to carry a gun, then left the two alone in the locked truck while she gathered information on the arrest of the 17-year-old. When she returned, Kritik was laying on top of the girl, pants down.
Despite telling the constable that she had been vaginally penetrated, the victim did not receive a medical exam, a standard procedure in sexual assault cases. Nor were her parents contacted. Instead, CBC reported that the young girl was put in a jail cell where she spent the night. The officer was suspended the following day and she has since resigned from the police force. Joe Kritik eventually pleaded guilty to the sexual assault and was sentenced to 39 months in prison.
The victim, who cannot be named because she was a minor at the time of the incident, has now filed a civil lawsuit against the police officer, the KRPF as well as the Kativik Regional Government. She is asking for a total of $400,000 in damages, citing "an incredible lack of concern for the safety of the plaintiff" on the part of the arresting officer and "a serious lack of professionalism and gross negligence" on the part of the KRPF. The lawsuit even claims that the officer slammed the door of the victim's jail cell on her face and broke her tooth.
According to La Presse, the lawsuit also alleges that the victim, now aged 21, suffers from post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts stemming from the 2011 incident. Her father told La Presse that his daughter has not recovered from the incident. "Before this happened, she got along well with her family. Now, she has severe mood swings. She gets angry, breaks objects. Other times she is just sad."
An internal investigation by the KRPF cleared the officer in this case of any criminal wrongdoing. But this comes amid concerns of how police deal with issues in aboriginal communities and there are growing calls by aboriginal leaders for independent investigations into police abuses of power.
In a recent interview with VICE, Native Women's Association of Canada vice-president Dawn Harvard said, "There is a tremendous power imbalance, and it's very, very concerning." She says that these isolated cases tie into a much larger history of systemic oppression in aboriginal communities.