The revelation that indigenous women are dramatically overrepresented among Canada's female serial-homicide victims underscores the need for independent data and confirms the merits of a national inquiry into violence against aboriginal women, indigenous leaders say.
Some aboriginal organizations and chiefs have expressed concern that the public discussion about missing and murdered indigenous women has so far centred on the belief that the crimes are largely committed by indigenous men on reserves. The RCMP have produced two reports on killings and disappearances involving aboriginal women, but neither of those studies – released in 2014 and earlier this year – contained analysis about serial predation. The latest report emphasized the "strong nexus to family violence."
A Globe and Mail analysis has found that indigenous women are roughly seven times more likely to die at the hands of a convicted serial killers than non-indigenous women. The investigation also determined that at least 18 aboriginal women were slain by convicted serial killers since 1980; the majority of those women were killed in or near cities by non-indigenous men.
"It's very nice to see some actual, credible information that serves to counter some of the messaging coming out of the RCMP reports," said Derek Nepinak, the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. "Until we actually en-gage unbiased and thorough research, we're always going to be at the whim of what might be considered politically expedient research."
Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said she hopes a national inquiry – which the new Liberal government has committed to launching by the summer – will "shine a light on the reality" that indigenous women are being preyed upon by serial killers in urban centres.
"The question is, why choose to ignore this particular question when we have been voicing concern about how our women are targeted, and we saw the high numbers of indigenous women taken by men like Robert Pickton?" she said. "Sometimes, what was ignored in the data is as important as what was found."
The Globe is compiling a database of homicide and long-term missing-person cases that involve indigenous women, building on data collected by NWAC and Ottawa-based researcher Maryanne Pearce. But given the lack of comprehensive Canadian data related to serial homicide, the newspaper looked to the work of American researcher Mike Aamodt to determine how the serial-homicide rate among indigenous women compared with their non-indigenous counterparts. An analysis of the Canadian convictions contained in his international dataset of serial killings showed that one-fifth of this country's known female serial-homicide victims since 1980 were indigenous; just 4 per cent of Canada's overall female population is indigenous.
RCMP spokeswoman Julie Gagnon said in an e-mail that investigators use "multiple tools" to uncover trends and connections between cases, pointing to a central database that helps links violent crimes. The force would not comment specifically on The Globe's findings, but said serial offenders only rarely target their victims based on race. "Typically, these offenders will target victims whom they perceive to be vulnerable and available," Staff Sergeant Gagnon said, adding that "lifestyle and certain high-risk behaviours" can increase a person's chances of being victimized.
Argentina-based forensic anthropologist Luis Fondebrider said tackling the disproportionate rate of violent crimes committed against indigenous women, including serial homicide, may require viewing the violence through a specific lens: that of femicide. Mr. Fondebrider, who heads an organization that applies forensic sciences to the investigation of human-rights violations in Argentina and elsewhere, said he believes there is evidence to suggest vulnerable women in Canada – many of whom are indigenous – are being targeted. This, he said, points to the need to establish specific policing protocols for when an indigenous woman goes missing. "You need a strategy to deal with this pattern," he said.
In a joint statement, the federal ministers of Indigenous Affairs, Status of Women and Justice reiterated the Liberal government's commitment to launching a national inquiry.
"The article in today's Globe and Mail on the connection between convicted serial killers and some of the disappearance and murders of indigenous women and girls reiterates the need for a national inquiry," the ministers said. "The rates of violence against indigenous women and girls is a national tragedy that requires a national response."
Clive Weighill, the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the head of the Saskatoon Police Service, said it may be worthwhile for Public Safety Canada to consider the prospect of collecting and maintaining data on serial homicide. Still, he said, tackling the broader issue will require much more than an analysis of the criminal element. "It's nice to delve into some of the facts and figures about serial killers, but what is driving all this?" he said, pointing to social ills such as poverty, poor housing and racism. "I think we all have to get serious about the situation, unfortunately, that a lot of our indigenous women are in. And it's not their fault."
Mr. Fondebrider agrees that prevention is critical. He said that just as Canada works to champion human rights and help protect communities abroad, it must turn inward and ensure it is taking care of those within its own borders. "These people are Canadians," he said of indigenous women. "They have the same rights."
With a report from Matthew McClearn
Do you have information that could assist in our investigation into serial killing as it relates to the broader issue of Canada's missing and murdered women? If so, please e-mail The Globe's MMIW team at MMIW@globeandmail.com.