If we have learned anything about public inquiries, it is that they take a long time, cost a lot of money and are most useful when studying an incident that occurred at a specific time and place.
Calling an inquiry into the deaths of native women stretching back more than 30 years would offend what we have learned. That such an inquiry would go on for a long time and cost a lot of money is self-evident. That it would do any good is unlikely.
Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police produced a report into missing and murdered aboriginal women going back to 1980. The Mounties combed through their files, consulted other research and offered a thorough and balanced assessment of the evidence.
What a public inquiry could add to that inquiry is hard to fathom, except to provide a platform for those with political agendas. Plenty of more suitable platforms already exist for the expression of these agendas.
What the RCMP discovered was, in many respects, exactly what could have been expected by anyone familiar with homicides of women, aboriginal or otherwise.
Among the findings were that men committed most of the crimes against women, that the criminals knew their victims, that many had previous brushes with the law, and that 92 per cent of cases involved spouses, other family members, acquaintances or those who had had intimate relations with the women.
The study showed that aboriginal women were being killed most often by people who knew them, not by strangers. This is the case with non-aboriginal women, as well.
Although the report does not say so directly, the data strongly suggest that aboriginal women were (and are) largely being victimized by aboriginal men, which means that solutions to the problem lie not within a public inquiry, but within aboriginal communities about why this is happening – and, of course, in a wider reflection on the disadvantaged situation of aboriginals in Canada.
The idea that some with certain political agendas might espouse – that aboriginal women are largely being struck down by non-aboriginal strangers – is largely false.
The portrait of slain and missing aboriginal women is rather close to that for women in general. The biggest difference is that female aboriginal homicide is more likely to arise from physical beating – rather than from shooting or strangulation, as is the case for nearly half of non-aboriginal women.
It is often asserted that female aboriginal homicides are rising. In fact, the RCMP reported that since 1980, “the number of aboriginal female victims of homicide has remained relatively constant.” There were 33 female aboriginal homicides in 1981 and 36 in 2012, the latter coming after a large jump in the female aboriginal population.
What has happened, as per the rhetoric, is that killings of aboriginal women have risen as a share of total female homicides. This increase in the share has occurred because the rate of killing of non-aboriginal women has declined sharply (205 in 1981 compared to 118 in 2012).
The net result is that the aboriginal share of total female homicides jumped from 13 per cent in 1981 to 23 per cent in 2012, even though the number of female aboriginal homicides remained rather steady in absolute terms.
On these numbers, therefore, there is no epidemic of killing of aboriginal women, although obviously each death is a tragedy and a crime. The rate for police solving homicides is almost the same for aboriginal and non-aboriginal women.
Of course, police can only compile and analyze data on crimes reported to them. There could be crimes they aren’t learning about. And there are always unsolved homicides, of which there were six in 2012 and 10 others involving aboriginal women who went missing.
Canada’s premiers and the leaders of the two federal opposition parties, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau, who demand a public inquiry, are playing to the gallery, without any clear idea of what such an inquiry could uncover.
The RCMP report gives a full and fair account of what has been going on. It contains no surprises whatsoever. A public inquiry would add hardly anything, and would therefore be an exercise in politics and posturing.