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Violence against Indigenous women: Tories blame the community

Valerie Lannon

May 12, 2015

Alberta RCMP announced in April that the remains of yet another missing Indigenous woman had been found near Edmonton.

Perhaps Harper is concerned by the fact that it is the CBC, and not his government, that is undertaking an inquiry of sorts into the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. We will never know. But what the CBC inquiry revealed in April was that families of these women still want a public inquiry.

CBC was able to reach more than 110 family members (from the 1,180 women identified by the RCMP earlier this year) and asked them to assess the quality of police work associated with investigating the murdered or missing women in their lives. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “excellent”, the average score was 2.8!

Family members frequently recounted that either because the woman was Indigenous and/or was in a “high risk” situation (involved with addictions and the street), the police did not take the case seriously. To drive home the point, many of those contacted said this was the first time they had been contacted about their relative.

The numbers tell it all. A Manitoba police task force has solved one case in the last five years. Project Kare in Alberta has had three convictions since 2003. For BC’s Highway of Tears task force, there has been one solved case and one arrest since 2005. The causes of these low rates are both individual racism and institutional racism, as some police detachments have alleged, “we… were not given the resources necessary to accomplish the job, by someone up the chain of command.”


The Tory response

It is bad enough that the Harper government has consistently refused to hold a public inquiry into this crisis (promising instead to “take action”, which never happens). Even worse, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Bernard Valcourt, stated that “First Nation men have a lack of respect for women and girls on reserve”, accounting for the high level of violence against Indigenous women. This classic case of blaming the victim—or, in this case, Indigenous communities—is all the more invalid for its lack of basis in simple numbers.

Well-known Indigenous activist, Pam Palmater, wrote about all this in Indigenous Nationhood in April 2015. She begins by dissecting the RCMP statistic of 1,180 unsolved murdered and missing Aboriginal women, provided in 2014.  She points out that even the RCMP admitted to a methodological flaw when it stated “a high number of homicide reports where the identity of the victim (and/or accused) remained unknown.”  This is on top of the problem of under-identification of Aboriginal crime victims generally.

But when the RCMP decided to release statistics after Valcourt’s infamous statement about Aboriginal men, it said that “70 per cent of offenders were Aboriginal.” The RCMP also stated that “Aboriginal females were killed by a spouse, family member or intimate relation in 62 per cent of the cases.”  To say “70 per cent of offenders were Aboriginal” assumes that most Indigenous women are partners with Indigenous men, but Palmater argues this is not the case.  She examines “out-parenting” rates (in this case, First Nations people having children with non-First Nations people) are moderate to high.  

She notes: “It is safe to say that no less than half of First Nations are in spousal or familial relationships with non-Aboriginal people. So, even if 64 per cent of Aboriginal women are murdered by their spouses, it does not follow that those spouses are ‘Aboriginal.’  Statistically, they are just as likely to be non-Aboriginal.”

This crisis must be addressed by a government committed to a public inquiry and to addressing the root causes of the violence against Indigenous women (and men), neither of which will happen under Harper. All the more reason to kick him out the door in October.

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