The targeting of Canada's aboriginal women by serial killers demands specific action to protect them from "sick and dangerous" people who have found novel ways to seek out their victims, the federal Indigenous Affairs Minister says.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Carolyn Bennett deemed it "hugely important" that the country now has a clearer picture of the rate at which aboriginal women are being preyed upon by serial killers.
The Globe revealed earlier this week that indigenous women in Canada are roughly seven times more likely to die at the hands of a serial killer than non-indigenous women. The investigation also found that at least 18 aboriginal women were slain by convicted serial killers since 1980. That number quadruples when probable and speculative cases are considered.
"This is an element that we have not seen as poignantly documented," Ms. Bennett said of the findings.
A 2014 RCMP report found that 1,181 indigenous women were killed or went missing across the country between 1980 and 2012; a 2015 update to that report emphasized the "strong nexus to family violence." The Mounties did not conduct an analysis of serial homicide data for the reports, neither of which mention serial killing.
Indigenous leaders have been calling for more comprehensive data collection and, specifically, for the RCMP to release its homicide data set so it can be independently studied. Asked about the prospect of Ottawa compiling serial-homicide statistics on an ongoing basis, Ms. Bennett said the government will wait to see what recommendations come out of its national inquiry into violence against indigenous women, slated to launch in the summer.
Ms. Bennett focused in on details exposed in The Globe's article regarding the case of Canada's latest known serial killer, Traigo Andretti. Mr. Andretti met his first victim, Myrna Letandre, through her sister, Lorna Sinclair, in 2006. Like hundreds of others in Winnipeg, Ms. Sinclair had signed up for a free voice mail service that allows people who do not have a phone, and are seeking work, to receive messages from prospective employers. Mr. Andretti exploited the service by dialling random extensions and, if a woman "sounded cute," he would leave a message, according to police transcripts obtained by The Globe.
In explaining this to police, Mr. Andretti mentioned "Mama Wichita," a possible reference to Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, an aboriginal organization that allows people to sign up for the voice mail program. The executive director was shocked to learn Mr. Andretti had prowled the system, saying she would direct staff to warn participants to avoid contact with suspicious callers.
"This is systemic and purposeful in the way that these sick and dangerous people have used … modern electronic systems to be able to find vulnerable women," Ms. Bennett said. "What this article and this revelation has shown is that there are very specific measures that need to be taken to protect these vulnerable women."
Mr. Andretti went on to kill his wife, a 41-year-old indigenous woman named Jennifer McPherson, in British Columbia. When the mother of two went missing in 2013, her loved ones made the painful decision not to correct the RCMP's missing-person bulletin that identified her as Caucasian. The family feared that revealing Ms. McPherson's ethnicity would lead to police bias and public apathy.
"The poignancy of the family having to hide the indigenous identity of a loved one just speaks to the huge problem in this country of racism and sexism on this issue," Ms. Bennett said.
The minister also spoke to new Statistics Canada data, released Wednesday, that found indigenous men are seven times more likely than non-indigenous men to be homicide victims. As well, it showed that nearly a third of those accused of homicide last year were aboriginal – a finding that Ms. Bennett said underscores the need to address the intergenerational trauma rooted in historic ills, such as the residential-school system.
She said that while aboriginal men are overrepresented among Canada's male homicide victims, the inquiry will focus on women because of the "tremendous call and consensus" to do so. "This has been a long time coming," the minister said.
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.