Gabrielle Scrimshaw is a consultant on aboriginal issues and is the co-founder of the aboriginal Professional Association of Canada.
My sister was in her thirties the first time she came to Toronto. A new mother with a beautiful family, she joined me in visiting the sights and sounds of the city I now call home after moving from Saskatchewan. Like most new mothers, my sister is working hard to provide for her new family, enjoys playtime with her son, and is one of the best friends a sister could have. I can’t imagine my life without her.
However, because my sister is First Nations, this dire thought has recently crossed my mind. As a newly released report from the RCMP points out, my sister, along with other aboriginal women in Canada, is four times more likely to be a victim of homicide or to be reported missing.
We need a national inquiry to understand why and to prevent this tragic reality from continuing.
The RCMP report points to a jarring reality. Although aboriginal women make up 4 per cent of the female population in Canada, they represent 16 per cent of homicide cases and 11 per cent of missing-persons cases.
Sadly, of the 1181 cases of murdered or missing aboriginal women in this country, 225 of them remain unsolved. The report also found that although homicide rates in Canada have decreased over recent decades, for aboriginal women they have been on the rise.
This is a societal problem affecting the communities where we live and work, and one that demands further investigation. In a statement, Justice Minister Peter MacKay pointed to 40 past studies on the issue and shared his belief that now is the time for action rather than a national inquiry.
One of the studies he is referring to is the Special Commons Committee Report on Violence against Indigenous Women released this year, the day before International Women’s Day. The draft version of this report recommended a national inquiry take place; however, this recommendation was censored from the final public version.
I also believe that if the past studies he’s referring to have provided enough information, I have to question why the report released on Friday showed numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous women nearly 50 per cent larger than what was reported only two months ago. We are really only starting to understand this issue, and, in fact, the more we dig the more questions we have.
The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada is one that spans provincial borders and crosses multiple jurisdictions. It touches on the social, economical and justice cornerstones of our society. This is why the premiers believe a national inquiry is needed, and why our federal government should too.
At a time when Canada has been standing up for women and missing girls outside of our country, for us to be credible on these human-rights issues we should also provide the same level of justice and care for women and girls within our borders. A national inquiry will provide a comprehensive view of what are the societal issues that lead to higher rates of homicide and missing persons cases for aboriginal women, and what we can do to prevent this tragic trend from continuing.
At a moment when the United Nations has stated that aboriginal human-rights issues in Canada have reached “crisis proportions,” now is the time for action, and I implore our government to take the first step with a national inquiry.