March 12, 2015
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The recent report delivered by the RCMP on missing or murdered Aboriginal women identified a serious and disturbing threat for Aboriginal women in Canada.

Stephen Harper has been quoted as saying that “We should not view this crime as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime.” It is not clear what the prime minister meant by a “sociological phenomenon” but it would seem to mean that crime is not a sociological phenomenon.

According to the Oxford dictionary a phenomenon is “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question”. Using that definition it is clear that we don’t understand why the rate of missing or murdered Aboriginal women is so much higher than the national average. It therefore seems clear that this is a sociological phenomenon including not only crime but other societal factors.

For example, the RCMP report stated that “while the matter is without question a policing concern, it is also a much broader societal challenge.” The statistics in the report clearly show that the rate of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada is significantly higher than that of non-Aboriginal women.

Aboriginal women represent 4.3% of the total female population in Canada yet missing Aboriginal women account for 11.3% of the total number of missing females in Canada (RCMP Report 2014).

Between 1980 and 2012, females represented 32% of homicide victims, but Aboriginal women represented 16% of all female homicides (RCMP Report, 2014). Since 1980 female homicides have been declining while Aboriginal women homicides have remained relatively constant. Consequently, in 2012, Aboriginal women now account for 23% of all female homicides. In 1984 Aboriginal women made up 8% of all female homicides (RCMP Report, 2014).

When a segment of the Canadian population is victimized at a rate of almost three times the average rate, then we should all be concerned. Although Harper has indicated there have been many reports produced, it seems that the action taken by the government has not produced much in the way of results. Even the RCMP have said that it is necessary “to emphasize the need to engage not just the police tools, but broader response options (social services, health education, etc.).”

It seems clear that more information is required if government is going to take action that is effective. The Government of Canada can call an inquiry pursuant to the Inquiries Actconcerning any matter connected with good government or the conduct of any part of the public business” (Section 2).

There are plenty of examples where the Federal Government has created inquiries over the treatment of a single person by the Federal Government. The Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces in Somalia (1994 – 1997) investigated the torture and murder of a black prisoner by Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia. Another example is the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officers in relation to Maher Arar (2004 – 2006). This inquiry was established to determine the role of the Canadian officials in the deportation of Arar from the U.S. to Syria where he was tortured.

It would seem clear that the Federal Government is prepared to establish inquiries when the victim attracts international attention but not when the victimization occurs on Canadian soil. Some would suggest the Federal Government’s refusal to create an inquiry may be politically motivated.

Consider for a moment that Aboriginal people have a much lower voter turnout than the national average, therefore diminishing the voting power of Aboriginal people. (See Explaining Aboriginal Turnout in Federal Elections: Evidence from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Elections Canada). In addition, the relationship between the present Federal Government and Aboriginal people has been strained. This can be seen by examining the sheer volume of litigation by Aboriginal people against the Federal Government over treaty rights and abuse suffered by Aboriginal people at the hands of the government.

There is no question an inquiry is needed to identify the causes of the high rate of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Unfortunately, the present position of the Federal Government is not based on need or concern for Aboriginal women but apparently on politics.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2017 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

Service: Indigenous Law