Canada's homicide rate has sunk to its lowest level since 1966 – but indigenous people are far more likely to be murder victims than other segments of the population.
In its first-ever complete analysis on homicides and aboriginal identity, Statistics Canada said indigenous people were about six times more likely than non-indigenous people to be victims of homicide last year. Almost a quarter of last year's 516 homicide victims were reported by police as aboriginal – a group that accounted for just 5 per cent of the Canadian population.
Both indigenous men and women are more likely to be victims of murder. Aboriginal men were seven times more likely to be homicide victims than non-aboriginal males, while the homicide rate for indigenous women was six times higher than for their non-indigenous counterparts.
The agency also recorded the number of aboriginal female homicide victims between 1980 and 2014. It counted 1,073 in that time, accounting for 16 per cent of all female victims (its data do not include the number of missing indigenous women).
The findings by a national statistical agency confirm what some have been saying for years: that an alarmingly disproportionate number of murder victims are aboriginal.
"This is helpful and important because it confirms exactly what we've been saying," said Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, which has spent years collecting data and raising awareness on missing and murdered aboriginal women. "Until recently, people have said this is anecdotal, or there's no hard data to prove your accusations. This is important because our work has often been discounted as not valid. There is no way this can be ignored."
A Globe and Mail investigation revealed this week that indigenous women in Canada are about seven times more likely than non-indigenous women to be slain by serial killers. Indigenous women are also at a far higher risk of violent victimization, a separate Statscan release on Monday showed. Aboriginal women had a rate of 115 sexual assaults per 1,000 women in 2014, more than triple the rate of non-aboriginal women.
The release comes after a 2014 RCMP report found that 1,181 aboriginal women were killed or went missing between 1980 and 2012. An update this year counted another 32 homicides of indigenous women in RCMP jurisdictions during the previous two years.
The federal Liberal government plans to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada by the summer.
Statscan has been working with the RCMP to improve data quality on murdered aboriginal women amid a growing public focus on the issue. As well, as of last year, police services in Canada began reporting aboriginal identity of all victims and accused people to the statistical agency. Statscan said it will continue to collect this type of data, adding that beginning next year, it will also start tracking whether the victim was reported as missing to police prior to the homicide.
"In response to increasing efforts in Canada to address societal concerns regarding the prevalence of missing and murdered aboriginal girls and women, the policing community has amended their policies which prevented the reporting of aboriginal identity of victims and persons accused of homicide to [Statscan's] homicide survey," the agency said in an e-mail.
The RCMP said they no longer plan to release annual stats on missing and murdered aboriginal women. The data collected so far "provide us with enough information and insights on the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women to guide our investigations and prevention efforts," it said in an e-mail to The Globe.
Aboriginal women account for a growing share of female homicide victims in Canada – 21 per cent last year, compared with 14 per cent in 1991. That increase is because the number of indigenous victims has held steady, while it has been falling among non-aboriginal female victims since 1991.
This is the first time the agency has completed police-reported data on aboriginal identity of victims and those accused of homicide. The 2014 homicide data show aboriginal people are "over-represented as victims and persons accused of homicide," the agency said.
It found almost a third of people accused of these crimes last year were aboriginal. The rate of aboriginal people accused was 10 times higher than the rate for non-indigenous people.
The elevated rates of violence reflect complex and long-standing systemic problems that include poverty, racism and discrimination in the justice system, noted Dr. Lavell-Harvard.
Among provinces, the rate of homicides involving aboriginal victims was highest in Manitoba, followed by Alberta, and lowest in Quebec. For the population as a whole, there were four more homicides in 2014 than a year earlier. The homicide rate, however, was stable, which meant 2013 and 2014 tallied the lowest homicide rates since 1966. Among the total population, Manitoba had the highest homicide rate in Canada for the eighth straight year, though it saw a decline last year.
Among cities, Thunder Bay, in Northern Ontario, had the highest homicide rate in Canada – nearly three times that of Winnipeg, which recorded the second-highest level in the country.