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An ugly homicide number we need to discuss

Aboriginal people account for a disproportionate share of homicide victims and accused murderers, a reality Canada must confront in order to halt the violence


 
(Chris Wattie, Reuters)

(Chris Wattie, Reuters)

This is what it means to be born Indigenous, in Canada, in the 21st century: You are twice as likely to die in infancy. You will be nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted as a child and three times more likely to drop out from school. You will be twice as likely to lose your job. If you have a job, you will earn 60 per cent less.

For Métis, Inuit, and First Nations Canadians, the deck is stacked against you from birth, and the stakes are as high as they can get. For many Indigenous people, who face an incarceration rate 10 times the national average, a losing hand means prison. For more than a thousand missing or murdered Aboriginal women, the rigged game ended in death. These numbers aren’t secret. I’ve written about them a dozen times before, and we’ve been hearing them repeated by politicians, elders, academics and activists for decades now.

But here is a new number, from data released Wednesday by StatsCan: While Indigenous Canadians are six times more likely to be the victim of murder, they are eight times more likely to be a murderer.

Aboriginal homicide chart

Last year RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told First Nations leaders that Indigenous perpetrators were responsible for 70 per cent of the solved homicides of Aboriginal women. They responded with furious indignation, and Paulson was attacked for vilifying the Indigenous community. NDP MP Niki Ashton, among many others, dismissed the RCMP numbers and demanded to see the data.

Well, StatsCan began to collect that data and now we have the latest figures. They’re ugly. The Indigenous community makes up less than five per cent of the population in Canada, but accounts for 32 per cent of all suspects accused of murder. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, it’s an astounding 74 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively. (The relative percentages for murders committed by Aboriginal women are even higher, but come from much smaller absolute numbers.)

And this presents two questions: Why are Indigenous Canadians so much more likely to commit murder? And why should we be talking about it?

The first question is much easier to answer. This is an issue of “place”, not “race.” Consider this map of Canada and the United States, based on research compiled here.

GILMORE_HOMICIDES

It is not a coincidence that the Canadian north is far more violent than any other province or state in either Canada or the U.S. When you drill down into the regional numbers for provinces like Saskatchewan, or look at the different neighbourhoods in Winnipeg, you see a similar picture on a smaller scale. Disconnected, unhealthy, and poor communities have far higher rates of violence. And these are adjectives that all too often describe the northern villages, remote reserves, and inner city neighbourhoods where Canada’s Indigenous population lives.

In these communities historic abuses, a lack of infrastructure, and social dislocation have exacerbated several factors that criminologists have long associated with higher rate of violence: large numbers of youth, single-parent households, high unemployment, and alcoholism.

The population in Canada’s Aboriginal communities is much younger than almost any other demographic, with a mean age of 27 years versus 40 for the rest of the country. More young men means more angry young men. And the places these kids are growing up in are more likely to be poor, and have higher numbers of single-parent homes.

These households are also the scene of far more domestic abuse compared to the Canadian average. Even when you control for social variables (such as rates of alcoholism or unemployment), “Aboriginal women consistently report a rate of partner violence much higher than their non-Aboriginal counterparts,” according to the Canadian Department of Justice.

This has created a vicious cycle in these Indigenous communities. Children raised in violent homes are up to 17 times more likely to have serious emotional and behavioural problems. Is it any wonder that an Aboriginal child, raised in a poor, single parent home, witnessing domestic violence, exposed to alcoholism, and warehoused in a sub-par school system, ends up becoming extremely violent themselves?

Which brings us to the second question, why is it important to confront the fact that Indigenous men are much more likely to be violent than other demographics? Because Commissioner Paulson was right. The overwhelming majority (71 per cent) of Indigenous homicide victims knew their attackers. They were killed by members of their own community, family members or friends.

And, shouting that the RCMP must “Do more!” will do nothing. You don’t end domestic violence with more police patrols. This is a much more complex problem, that needs the interventions by communities, elders, and provincial and federal agencies.

Why do Indigenous Canadians have the highest rates of victimization in the country? Because, as this latest data emphasizes, they live in the most violent communities in the country. The fact that I have to point this out, and that doing so will be met with anger, shows the embarrassingly primitive state of our national discussion on this issue. If we are ever going to address this crisis, we need to focus on where it starts: in the very communities First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Canadians live.


 

An ugly homicide number we need to discuss

  1. They are beginning to unravel what has happened here. There are some very uncomfortable truths that will need to be addressed. When it happens…let’s all keep an open mind and deal with it together.

  2. Not that I’m an expert on this, but I think one of the problems facing the aboriginal community is that they are, in general, disenfranchised from the rest of Canada. Pointing fingers on how this came about is not overly productive. If we truly want to solve the problem then moving forward we – that being all of us – have to figure out a way that we can all live and work together and accept one another on an equal basis.

  3. Canada’s so-called conversation about Aboriginal living conditions is driven entirely by crises and the release of ugly stats. We’ve put our historical debts on a high interest credit card, in the form of a young and growing population, and we’re still debating about whether we should make the larger and larger minimum payments.

  4. This is a very big problem that requires some very big solutions, but right now I have what is a small one that could be a big one. A few weeks ago, I read in the Winnipeg Free Press about a boxing club that had started a way to help victims of Parkinsons disease. I thought at the time how boxing clubs could be very helpful in the inner cities and, particularly, on reserves and in isolated communities. Today, the Free Press has another very successful story about a boxing club that has started in the north end of Winnipeg for young people – there will be support for homework, there will be meals offered – lots of good things. Most importantly will be the benefits that boxing clubs can provide in learning self-discipline, taking care of ones self, building self-esteem.
    Having an opportunity to get rid of some of the anger and frustration that seems to haunt the lives of our indigenous peoples in a controlled atmosphere might be very beneficial. How such clubs could form and operate in places other than cities, I don’t know. But, I’m sure our Prime Minister, who enjoys the sport of boxing himself, would know some people and be able to effect some action in this regard.Over to you, Mr. Trudeau (and Mr. Butts, of course!).

  5. fn’s demand autonomy and refuse to join society in general. If they insist in raping and murdering their own how is that our problem. This is a strictly an internal issue that fn’s should address. Throwing money at fn’s wont solve a thing as long as they continue to cling to their attitude of condescending self pity.

    • I fully expect to see the blame it on the victims of generations of trauma inflicted on them in the name of providing a good home and comforts for the rest of Canada. There are far too many minds in CDA who willingly ignore their own history in order to avoid having to deal with the consequences of their ancestors own dirty works and the fact that they, themselves still today benefit from all those atrocities.

      While the Indigenous communities are far from being fully aware of the issues of the damages within them, they are also very involved and vocal about what they feel is needed to amend the seven generations and more of damage. How unbelievably myopic of anyone to come to the conclusion that people who had the skills of parenting taken from them – in order to become better at being white people, no less – would somehow magically overcome all those former and continuing years of belittlement and being left behind, far behind.

      The 2011 Cdn Auditor General Report spelled out very well, the despicable neglect of Cdns in their obligations to treaties and those noted in their own Indian Act. The people of Canada continue to live off the resources and lands that rightfully belong to the Indigenous and yet, they then decry them for accepting the pittances that are given in return of what’s actually owed, while having the nerve to call that “handouts”.

      How dare anyone sit in judgement outside of what they, themselves are complicit in, by virtue of accepting the benefits of any and all resource extractions and land deals from 1876 to this very day. No you did not, and have not, done any favors for the Indigenous. Canada has lived off of them unrelentingly – without a hint of genuine repentance.

      So, how will they fix the issues? Well, it seems everyone has had that spelled out quite clearly in a few reports already, the most recent being the TRC Report. Has everyone already forgotten that exists? If so, how long with it take to forget the MMIW inquiry? Likely already that has begun, by the sounds of it.

      We are aware of some damning figures for the number of incidents that occur to Indigenous women from the policing services allegedly sworn to protect them. So, how about we wait to hear from that inquiry before coming back with the idea we already know everything from the very institutions that practise insane levels of racism when dealing with the Indigenous.

      Let’s not discount that fact, shall we? We know a great percentage of Indigenous peoples receive far greater harassment and longer and steeper sentences for committing the same crimes as any other race or culture.

      Can we please be done, with the -great white hope will save the day- mentalities already? They haven’t done a damned thing to turn life back to prosperous or successful for the Indigenous for at least 150 years. Let’s get back to all those government promises to implement the 94 TRC recommendations immediately. But oh wait, that promise is likely as worthy as all those treaties they lived up to. Bad look for you, Canada, it’s a very poor record to rest your honour on.

  6. “Disconnected, unhealthy, and poor communities have far higher rates of violence.”

    Whatever community is being discussed, the male half of that community will also have “higher rates of violence” – regardless of factors like health and wealth.

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