RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has confirmed assertions by Canada's Minister of Aboriginal Affairs that 70 per cent of the aboriginal women who are murdered in Canada meet their fate at the hands of someone of their own race.
Mr. Paulson's decision to back up statements by Bernard Valcourt comes after several chiefs said the minister should be fired for blaming aboriginal men for the tragedy, a position they dismissed as unsubstantiated and demeaning.
Mr. Paulson wrote on Tuesday to Bernice Martial, the Grand Chief of Treaty Six in central Saskatchewan and Alberta, who was among the native leaders to express concern, saying the RCMP has not previously released information on the ethnicity of the offenders in the spirit of "bias-free policing."
The RCMP released a report on Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women last May based on statistics from police agencies across the country. It said at least 1,181 indigenous women and girls were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012.
Noting that Mr. Valcourt has now divulged unreleased information about ethnicity collected by the RCMP, Mr. Paulson wrote: "The consolidated data from the nearly 300 contributing police agencies has confirmed that 70 per cent of the offenders were of aboriginal origin, 25 per cent were non-aboriginal, and five per cent were of unknown ethnicity."
Despite Mr. Paulson's statistics, Ms. Martial is unconvinced that responsibility for the tragedy can be pinned on native men.
"How are they collecting and compiling all this information? To me, it just doesn't drive," she said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "The RCMP is under the federal government, they have to comply with their policies and whatever they are told, they have to do. What I would like to see is an independent national inquiry."
Mr. Valcourt and other members of the federal Conservative government have rebuffed calls for an inquiry, saying enough studies have been done and they are addressing the problem through broad public safety and criminal justice measures.
Last fall, Mr. Valcourt said the deaths and disappearances came down to a lack of respect among aboriginal men on reserves for aboriginal women, and urged chiefs and councils to take action.
He sent a wave of anger rippling through First Nations on March 20, when he told a private meeting of chiefs in Calgary that unreleased RCMP statistics show "that up to 70 per cent of the murdered and missing indigenous women stems from their own communities."
Several chiefs, including Ms. Martial, emerged from that meeting to demand that the RCMP release numbers to support Mr. Valcourt's claim and any other data about the crimes it has withheld.
Mr. Paulson told Ms. Martial in his letter that the race of the offender is not relevant to the RCMP in tackling the issue but the offender's relationship with the victim.
The force's report of last May did not contain information about the ethnicity of the known perpetrators. But it said that, in 62 per cent of the cases, aboriginal females who were victims of homicide were killed by a spouse, family member or intimate relation. It also said the number was higher – 74 per cent – for other Canadian women who are murdered.
The RCMP says it is releasing a second report on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in mid-May that is expected to be an update on the force's response to the numbers released last year.
Even though the RCMP have now confirmed Mr. Valcourt's numbers, the minister may have difficulty repairing his relationship with some of the chiefs.
Chief Bernard Ominayak of the Lubicon Lake Nation said in an e-mail on Thursday that the opinion of the RCMP commissioner is irrelevant to demands for a national inquiry, and the statistics he presents "are useless without the documentation that backs up his claims."
"The government of the Lubicon Lake Nation duly supports all our indigenous women in their continued call for an independent inquiry," Mr. Ominayak said, "and we believe if the minister cannot commit to doing so, he should resign."
This story corrects an earlier version that incorrectly attributed the quotes from Chief Bernard Ominayak to Treaty 8 Grand Chief Steve Courtoreille