Canadians are preparing to join candlelight vigils, march through the streets, pause at their desks, or spend a moment of silence at home to register their anger at the disproportionate number of aboriginal women who have become victims of violence in this country.
At the eighth annual Sisters in Spirit vigils on Friday, native organizations will continue their call for a national public inquiry into the large number of native women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing over the past 50 years. For the first time, the number of related events will top 200.
“It’s a Canadian issue now,” said Jennifer Lord, the strategic policy liaison with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). “For years we have been saying this is not a women’s issue, this is not a native problem. This is a Canadian human-rights issue that impacts all of us and we are seeing that support now.”
NWAC has documented nearly 600 cases of aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing since the 1960s but it is widely believed that the actual number is much larger. While aboriginal women make up 3 per cent of the female population of Canada, they account for 10 per cent of all female homicides. Meanwhile, the rate of resolved cases for the murders of aboriginal women lags well below the average for the rest of the population.
Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers have called for a national public inquiry and NWAC has created a petition it will present to Parliament on Oct. 18 demanding that the Conservative government launch such an inquest. It has gathered more than 10,000 signatures and Ms. Lord said she is hoping many more names will be added over the next two weeks.
“This message is coming from the families – the hundreds of families out there in Canada who are saying their voices still aren’t being heard,” she said.
“This is racialized, sexualized violence. This is about hate crimes in this country, aboriginal women being targeted for extreme sexual violence because they are aboriginal women. And we need that changed.”
Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Thursday that his group will be unrelenting in its call for a public inquiry.
Mr. Atleo said he also wants assurances that the work of a parliamentary committee that had planned to study the issue will not be disrupted by prorogation.