If a society has the duty to protect its most vulnerable citizens, then Canadians and their governments are completely derelict with regards to aboriginal women. They represent four per cent of Canada’s female population, but nearly a third of the female offender population. They are twice as likely to live in poverty. And now the RCMP says estimates of the number of murdered aboriginal women may have been off by a startling amount.
It was once thought the number totalled 824 cases over 60 years, but there is now evidence that it is more than 1,200 – over a period of just 30 years. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said on Friday, “There are 4 per cent aboriginal women in Canada – I think there are 16 per cent of the murdered women who are aboriginal, 12 per cent of the missing women are aboriginal.” If that is not the impetus required to get Ottawa to call a public inquiry into this issue, then one would have to wonder what level of horror, if any, would do the job.
It’s not as if the government doesn’t know there is a chronic problem. In February, 2013, the Commons unanimously passed a motion recognizing “that a disproportionate number of indigenous women and girls have suffered violence, gone missing, or been murdered over the past three decades.” A Commons special committee has heard gutting testimony from the families of women who have disappeared or been murdered, as well as from groups that have been trying to compile accurate statistics. And the government has promised $25-million over five years, to address issues raised by the committee.
What the government has not promised is an independent review of factors contributing to the marginalization of aboriginal women. The most critical issue to examine would be the fraught relationship between the police and native women. Do police officers, from the municipal level to the RCMP, take reports of violence and missing women seriously enough? The case of the serial killer Robert Pickton provided damning evidence that some police were quick to dismiss such reports, and slow to move when they did respond.
For an aboriginal woman living on the margins of society, a caring law-enforcement system could mean the difference between life and death. A public inquiry is a chance to air all that went wrong in the past, and figure out how to get it right in the future.