As a youth court worker, it has never been the high profile cases, pews filled with press and families, but more often the silence that have impacted me dearly.
Last Thursday, Parminder Johal, a lawyer with the Youth Criminal Defence Office asked me to see an eighteen year old girl in custody for breaching her probation. The girl had a minor record and was being held in custody for a warrant going back years. Her crime: Not completing an apology letter and forty hours of community service hours. A Summary Offence, she should not have been held in jail under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I entered the interview room: a small cubicle with metal tables, a phone and wall of Plexiglas. When she entered; a petite Aboriginal girl, I could see her face was swollen, yellow and black, looking like old fruit. She threw a nervous smile and was missing a tooth. I introduced myself, “I’m here to help you and provide…”
“I’ve been raped,” she interrupted. Her lips quivered, eyes welled up, and then just looked down and cried.
I waited a few minutes. “Perhaps,” I finally said, “somebody else…”
She shook her head and wiped her cheeks with her sleeve. “But you said you’re here to help me? Somebody has to listen? Don’t they?”
A lot of people should have been listening!
She told me she had been at a motel room with some friends. There were drinks, “But I didn’t drink much! I think my drink was spiked,” she added and waking up, bruised, bleeding from her vagina, called her mother frantic, who called the Edmonton City Police Service . As first responders, her expectations as a victim of sexual assault were different than what transpired. The Officer/s ran her name, found she had an old warrant and arrested her.
According to the girl, the only acknowledgement by the police about being raped, was once released she could attend any police station and fill out a statement.
This I know as fact: It was clear she was injured but was not taken to the hospital, she saw no doctor and instead was held at police headquarters. After a few hours, expecting to be released, she was paraded in front of a Justice of the Peace and remanded into custody. Housed in the Edmonton Remand Centre, triple bunked in a cell, and with no access to fresh air, this girl who had never been in jail before had to sleep on the floor, alone with her thoughts. Scheduled for a “Rape Kit” on Monday, she could not shower or wash herself. Monday came and went. Only on Tuesday more than forty eight hours later, and still bleeding, was she taken to the hospital and saw a doctor and given a Rape Kit. Returned to the Edmonton Remand Centre she did not shower and continued to sleep on the floor stained by filth from her ordeal. She remain in custody, under the same horrid conditions for two more days before making a court appearance. Her treatment in custody was confirmed to Parminder Johal by the shift supervisor at the Edmonton Remand Centre who acknowledged issues given a new file IT system was recently implemented.
In Youth Court, there was a joint submission for Time Served. Her expectation as well as those involved with the case was that she was finally going to be released. But not yet..
When she was arrested, unknown to those involved in her case, she was also charged with a new offence related to her old probation order and remained in custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre another night. On friday morning the crown withdrew her adult charges based in part on her treatment. Six days later, was she released.
My twenty years working Edmonton Streets and over fifteen thousand clients in youth court, these specific allegations made by this girl about the Edmonton City Police and Edmonton Remand Centre, as alarming as they are, are not atypical. I feel supported by people like Brianna Olsen, a registered Social Worker with Ihuman, and the testimonials from agencies like Edmonton’s Stolen Sisters.
It is a sad fact that our prisons and courts are disportionatly over represented by First Nations people, and perhaps part of this anomaly is due to the Justice system taking direct aim at these people. I am sure, if my son, or I had called the police, complaining of being victimized by a violent offence, regardless if we had outstanding warrants or not, we would have been treated much differently than this girl. People may disagree, and I hope they speak loudly about their opinions.
I spoke to this girl this morning. I don’t know if she has the energy left to continue her sexual assault complaint. She sounded tired, afraid to speak about how she was treated. I’m worried she feels victimization, humiliation, is just part of being an Aboriginal women in Edmonton. I suspect given the Edmonton City Police Service (Even though they have been made aware of this situation) have not reached out to the community or this girl, they too hope she just goes away. And then there will be silence. And a stated at the start of my blog, it is the silent moments that have impacted me the most.