Why the PM should call an inquiry into missing Aboriginal women

Editorial: At very least, an inquiry would serve as a blueprint for government action

Fred Chartrand/CP

Fred Chartrand/CP

An Aboriginal girl born in Canada today will die up to 10 years earlier than the national average. She is more likely to live in a crowded home without access to clean running water. She is more likely to be sexually or physically abused, and stands a far greater chance of becoming addicted to tobacco, alcohol and drugs. She is more prone to a host of life-threatening ailments like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Worse yet, as a recent RCMP report showed, she is five times more likely than her non-Aboriginal counterpart to meet a violent end at the hands of another.

Much of this has become part of the troubling status quo facing Canada’s Native women, and Aboriginal people in general. Yet the outsized murder rate of Aboriginal women should shake even the most disinterested soul. Sadly, it apparently hasn’t had this effect in the highest echelons of the federal government, which has long rebuffed calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“We should not view this crime as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper infamously said, in reaction to the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was recently pulled from the depths of Winnipeg’s Rouge River wrapped in a plastic sheet.

Clinical nearly to the point of cruelty, Harper’s notion that Fontaine’s death is a murder like any other misses the point. It is true that, as the RCMP report notes, solving Aboriginal murders is no more or less challenging than in non-Aboriginal communities; in both, according to the report, police have a “solve rate” of almost 90 per cent. Police will likely find the perpetrator or perpetrators of Fontaine’s death, as they have thousands of others. But the problem isn’t solving the crime. It’s unlocking the riddle behind why a staggering number of this country’s Native women end up dead, violently, well before their time.

In 1984, Aboriginal women accounted for eight per cent of all female homicide victims in Canada. Today, some 23 per cent of female murder victims are Aboriginal. This fact alone warrants an investigation that is beyond the scope of any police force.

Further particularities sketched out in the RCMP report only bolster this argument. One-third of Aboriginal women, or nearly twice the non-Aboriginal average, died as a result of a physical beating. Female Aboriginal victims were more likely to have been sexually assaulted prior to death, and more often died at the hands of an acquaintance. Aboriginal murder suspects were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol in 71 per cent of the cases of 1,017 murdered Aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012.

There are any number of reasons behind these ghastly statistics. Certainly, the lack of real employment opportunities, and the resulting cycles of poverty, has created a sense of perpetual despair on many of Canada’s 617 First Nation communities. Inadequate governance on every level, from band councils to Parliament Hill, has stifled progress and bred a sort of institutional cynicism amongst Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals alike. Rampant addiction has further rotted out the core of too many communities, making victims of their youth even if they make it out alive. “Our generation stopped parenting,” as a resident on the northern Ontario reserve of Pikangikum, home to the world’s highest suicide rate, told Maclean’s in 2012.

The RCMP is to be commended for documenting the plight of Canada’s murdered and missing Aboriginal women. But the venerable police force acknowledges what the Harper government can’t or won’t: “While this matter is without question a policing concern, it is also a much broader societal challenge,” reads the report.

A comprehensive, well-funded national inquiry, mandated to recommend solutions, could very well help Canada tackle that societal challenge. The familiar government rationale for not holding an inquiry—that the resulting report would only gather dust—is self-defeatism at its worse. It seems ridiculous to have to say it: the disproportionately high homicide rate of a specific gender within an identifiable community in Canada should be a high-ranking priority of the government.

Though an inquiry isn’t a solution in and of itself, at the very least it would serve as a blueprint for government action in the coming years. It remains frustratingly unclear why the Prime Minister refuses to hold such a thing. Often, the Prime Minister’s obstinacy is born of partisan interest; if this is the case here, perhaps the opposition’s very vocal support of an inquiry will be its death knell. But as Stephen Harper himself found out in the case of the continuing Senate scandal, obstinacy can have a political price. Perhaps the key to forcing action on this national tragedy lies in the Canadian public reminding the Prime Minister of this fact as often as possible in the coming election year.


Why the PM should call an inquiry into missing Aboriginal women

    • Useless waste of money. We all know what the problems are. To pay a bunch of lawyers and judges what could amount to millons of dollars is senseless. The government can not do anything. Change must come from the communities themselves. No social problem (addiction etc) can be overcome without admitting you have a problem. Much happened to create these issues but the problems are there and change lies with the individual. No one can stop drug use for you, no one can stop drinking for you, no one can stop you abusing except you. Wrongs were done, no doubt about it, but personal repsonsibility is the answer and the government can not do that for you. We have created a society that they feel their livelihood hinges on being a victim. Until they admit the problems are of a nature that only individuals can overcome we can study it until the end of time and nothing will change. No matter how we got there the “government” will never be able to solve this. More and more people lost while the issues go unsolved because of a “nations” refusal to take any responsibility what so ever for what is happening to their people. We need to stop asking why….after a certain point why doesn’t matter and we are long past that point

      • You’ve been on lots of reserves haven’t you…i can tell.

      • Yes. Of course. It is the victims’ fault.

        Your comment exemplifies exactly why we need an Inquiry. It will show us how racist attitudes have stopped people, including police, from taking action. The whole “they deserve it because they are drunken Indians” permeates our society on every level.

        • Why do the federal government have to become involved? For years reserves have topped the stats in sexual abuse, child abuse , alcoholism and drug use, why would any sane woman stay in that situation? As painful as it sounds the first step in stopping this tragedy for the native community is as simple as looking in the mirror.

          • In four short lines you have just completely proven my point.

          • The fed govt is legally, by treaty and constitution, responsible for the FN.

            FN women are being killed because they are FN. They aren’t being killed on reserves.

        • The article notes:
          “But the problem isn’t solving the crime. It’s unlocking the riddle behind why a staggering number of this country’s Native women end up dead, violently, well before their time.”

          No, you need to unlock the riddle of why such a staggering number of aboriginal MEN in Canada’s aboriginal population feel the need to violently beat their wives, daughters, or other female relatives to death. It is not any level of Government that is responsible for the deaths of these women…..it is ABORIGINALS who are doing the majority of the killing. Instead of sending them on healing circles…send them to jail.

          the article futher states:
          “It seems ridiculous to have to say it: the disproportionately high homicide rate of a specific gender within an identifiable community in Canada should be a high-ranking priority of the government.”

          Which of course, is also just as inaccurate as the rest of this column. More aborigianl men are murdered, than aboriginal women. And again, the majority of the murderers, are aboriginal men. There is nothing gender specific about it, other than the obvious statistic that MEN are more likely to be murdered than women. The fact the author (s) of this column don’t realize this, is all the more reason not to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an inquiry that will accomplish nothing. As the author proves…there is nothing more useless than an opinion based on nothing other than polital motive.

          macleans should give their head a shake….or failing that, maybe read Andrew coyne’s latest column.

          It’s all just a dog and pony show. If you want to stop aboriginal women from getting killed, then you need to start at the root of the problem.

          Aboriginal men.

          • Yet again, demonstrating your profound ignorance does nothing but prove my point.

          • Here’s another stat for you Halifax; one i’ve no doubt you approve of: something like 80% of our prison population is Aboriginal already. Happy now? How many more do we have to stuff in there before you realize it is a social as well as criminal problem.

          • Gayle,

            If providing actual facts is profound ignorance, what does the fluff you come up with display?

            Lefties just never get it. “Feelings” are useless when it comes to solving a problem. If addressing the problem makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps you should stick to your farm game on facebook, or whatever it is called.

            the only point you prove, is how out of touch with reality you are.

          • KCM2

            If those 80% are there for committing crime, then the problem is not the stats. It is the behaviour of many aborigianl inmates.

            Again, you throw out a number as if that is the problem. It is not. Given the number of aboriginals killing other aboriginals…..the problem with your number is that it is apparently too low.

            You cannot address the social issues, until you address the financial issues. As long as we keep a large section of the population locked in remote locations with little access to jobs or opportunity, but easy access to booze, welfare, and drugs….an inquiry will solve nothing. The problem of course, is that every time a Government (any Government) tried to fix the problem, we have all the usual suspects crawling out of the woodwork with overpaid lawyers to stop it.

            Nothing will change, until we get rid of the Indian act, and until we put the same expecations upon aboriginals folks, as we do everyone else. Progressive don’t help the Indians by trying to baby them. You help the Indians by treating the same as everyone else, and by EXPECTING them to behave like everyone else.

    • Another study would be a waste of money. As the writer points out we already know the problems. It is the fact that native women are in dangerous places (mostly because of drug addiction and prostitution) and it is these problems that have to be solved somehow. I heard on Sun News that the number of solved murders of Aboriginal women is actually higher than the solved murders of non-aboriginal women. Perhaps, if this is true, it should be publicized more. As terrible as it was, everything cannot be blamed on residential schools either. Let the police and the government and the aboriginal groups take an honest look at the problems without self-interest.

  1. . “It remains frustratingly unclear why the Prime Minister refuses to hold such a thing.”

    No, i’m afraid it is all too clear. Call me a cynic, but putting the spotlight on this is very likely to renew interest in prescriptions for ending the cycle of poverty and dysfunction many Aboriginal communities are mired in – have long been mired in.[ not Harper’s fault of course] Anyone who follows closely both the rhetoric and actions of this govt on this file is aware it rejects many of the possible solutions that will inevitably come up…settling land claims on terms FNs can endorse; more self governance; more revenue sharing and generally less govt interference in native affairs. Instead they are still wedded to the TF approach – fee simple models for reserve land and more individual ownership.Leave seemingly unproductive remote reserves. The great majority of FNs have rejected this time and again; it isn’t as if there has never been home ownership in the past on reserve or no desire for it at all. But the collective model is still very much apart of FNs identity, and the days are long gone when they can be told or intimidated into solutions they don’t want. This message seems to just bounce off the Harper Conservatives. We never seem to learn. They don’t want to be told they have to become integrated, assimilated, entrepreneurs or wards of the state for that matter.[ as under previous Liberal/PC govts]

    I’ve just spent a good part of a month on reserve after a 14year absence. It was both wonderful and depressing. There’s nowhere near enough work, many young people leave to get educations or just get out of a rut that can kill their bodies or their spirits if they stay. Yet for all that there’s so much spirit there, so much capacity for joy and love for their culture [ we were there during a week long celebration ..Quatuwas 2014…google it. It was wonderful] And new stuff was going on. A new band store opening after the old one burned down. New housing, new youth centre. And the business acumen is there. It’s just they still aren’t really masters in their own house. Outwardly not much had changed; they’re still just sorta getting along. Things aren’t worse, slowly they’re improving. But clearly the people are stronger now.There’s a cultural renaissance. Ottawa [or Victoria] can’t push these guys around any more. They’d better realize it. As the people there like to say: ‘we’re not going anywhere.’

    That’s the spotlight SH doesn’t wanting shining on. Oh i’m sure he wishes them well and success. But as in so many other matters, he has his own ideas about how that success should come about. And pesky, intrusive inquiries whose agenda he doesn’t get to control doesn’t factor into it. But SH is either gong to get on the right side of history or it is going to roll over him one of these days.

    Oh by the way, in case some pmo minion is reading…No to Enbridge! Everywhere! Plastered all over the village.Top to bottom. I was disappointed no Enbridge or govt official was brave enough to attend and try to sell their case. But then they just don’t get it…it would have been bad manners and rude not to have treated them well as guests, to listen, during such an event. Sadly for him. SH will never get that either.

    • It is perfectly clear why SH will not call an inquiry…..THEY do not even register in HIS grand scheme of important people worth schmoozing.

    • KCM2…

      You point out part of the problem in your screed. “NO TO ENBRIDGE”

      Yep……just keep denying any opportunity to actually earn some money, or provide work to your people. And you will be stuck right where you are.

      Try this…….develop your economy, and then try to develop your people. Can’t do one without the other.

  2. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/08/26/why_we_dont_need_an_inquiry_into_murdered_aboriginal_women_walkom.html

    The best argument i’ve seen for why we shouldn’t have another inquiry. That Royal Commission report of 96 was ground breaking in its scope. I doubt it can be bettered. Still, somethings have to be repeated again, and again, and again before they sink in. Another inquiry is probably due, if that’s what FNs want themselves.
    Coyne RTed[?] this as a kind of moral crutch to his original provocative article. Oddly enough it does much damage to the most objectionable bit in that post: What about the men says AC? Well What about them Andrew? When added to the figures for Aboriginal women you get something like 2500 murders over 30 odd years in total – still think that undermines the need for an inquiry into MMAW do you?

  3. ” It remains frustratingly unclear why the Prime Minister refuses to hold such a thing.”

    Not unclear to me. Harper really doesn’t want to address aboriginal issues. Period.

    “The familiar government rationale for not holding an inquiry—that the resulting report would only gather dust—is self-defeatism at its worse.”

    I’d call that unintentionally revealing honesty. Why spend taxpayer dollars when we’ve already made up our minds to ignore the issue?

    2015, Steve. Make retirement plans now.

    • Keith,

      Politicians are just sick of trying. How do you help people, who apparently do not want to help themselves?

      Other than helping themselves to your wallet.

      • Jameshalifax, some very good arguments, thanks.

        • Maggat….trust me.

          On this site…..I’m a pariah racist, bigot…or any other name you care to mention.

          The groupthink on the average Macleans poster is astounding.

          but thanks in any event.

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