Last week, train service between Toronto and Montreal was disrupted in Eastern Ontario by protesters demanding a national inquiry into the disappearance and murder of hundreds of native women. Passengers on the train had to be bused to their destinations, which must have been frustrating.
Stop for a minute and compare that temporary inconvenience to the frustration native communities have experienced as they wait, endlessly and in vain, for action to be taken on a crisis in their midst. Every few months brings a report that recommends more of the same, and fails to actually provide meaningful changes to policing or funding or take useful steps to address a national shame.
The latest was this month’s parliamentary report Invisible Women: A Call To Action. “Call to inaction,” more like. The Conservative-dominated committee refused to call for a national inquiry into the issue, even as it noted that aboriginal women accounted for 8 per cent of the murders in Canada between 2004 and 2010 (they make up just 4 per cent of the female population.)
The report’s 16 recommendations are a tired litany of same old, same old variations on the theme that the federal government should keep up its commitments to the criminal justice system. It’s hardly surprising that native groups and opposition parties threw up their hands in exasperation.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has identified 582 missing or murdered aboriginal women over the past several decades, but as the report notes, “these are only known cases.” It could have kept counting, but funding ran out.
Last year, Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders called for an inquiry into violence against native women. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have both called for a deep and thorough investigation. The response in Ottawa was the thundering sound of crickets.
For some activists, even an inquiry wouldn’t be enough at this point. Audrey Huntley, co-founder of the No More Silence movement, talks about “not having any faith” in a system that produces reams of paper but no tangible results. She points to the 2012 report into British Columbia’s murder victims: Only three of the dozens of recommendations made by commissioner Wally Oppal have actually been implemented, and important ones, such as changes to policing policy, remain nowhere on the horizon. Victims’ families have actually had to sue the government in order to see action. “It’s not so much that we need another inquiry,” Ms. Huntley says. “The police should be opening and closing cases.”
It’s staggering that only slightly more than 50 per cent of murder cases involving native women are solved. The rate for the population as a whole is 75 per cent. This is something Loretta Saunders would surely have researched in her university thesis, which was to have examined this violent crisis. But the 26-year-old Inuk woman was murdered in February, her body left by the side of a highway. Two people are charged with her murder. This week, Ms. Saunders’s parents lashed out at Halifax police, claiming they were misled and ignored during the investigation. (The police deny these claims.)
As Mr. Oppal noted in his report, which concentrated on the B.C. victims of serial killer Robert Pickton, “the missing and murdered women were forsaken twice: once by society at large and again by the police.” Those women were failed, but other ones need not be. It’s time to have a national inquiry, and this one should have teeth.