The RCMP is preparing to release another report on Canada's murdered and missing aboriginal women – a surprise to the indigenous groups that have been lobbying the federal government to hold a public inquiry to discern the causes of the tragedy.
The new report, which the RCMP says will be released in May, is expected to be an update of a shocking report last year that said at least 1,181 indigenous women were murdered or disappeared between 1980 and 2012. The numbers proved what aboriginal leaders had been saying for years: that indigenous women were meeting violent ends far more often than other Canadian women. It led to renewed calls for a national inquiry.
News of the May update comes amid a controversy over the ethnicity of perpetrators of violence against aboriginal women. In March, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt cited previously unknown statistics that he attributed to the RCMP when he was trying to make a case that the problem of the missing and murdered women largely involves indigenous men.
According to a transcript obtained by The Globe and Mail of a private meeting Mr. Valcourt had with several chiefs at a Calgary hotel on March 20, Mr. Valcourt said: "I will tell you 'cause there is no media in the room that the RCMP report states that up to 70 per cent of the murdered and missing indigenous women issue stems from their own communities."
Last week, before there was any indication a new version of the report was coming, the RCMP was adamant that it would not disclose the ethnicity of perpetrators. But this week, after a government MP said the numbers would be released, RCMP officials were less certain.
The first RCMP report did not indicate perpetrators' ethnic background. It said 72 per cent of the indigenous female victims the force counted were killed by a spouse, a family member, or another intimate acquaintance. But it also said indigenous women who died violently were less likely than other Canadian women to have been killed by their romantic partners.
When the Aboriginal People's Television Network reported on the meeting, Mr. Valcourt rebuffed opposition demands in the House of Commons to explain where he obtained his statistics.
APTN then asked Conservative MP Rob Clarke, who appeared on March 26 on the show Nation to Nation, about the numbers. Mr. Clarke replied: "The information gathered [by the RCMP] is raw data. It hasn't been released yet and it will be released once the data is put into report form."
At first, the RCMP denied that to be the case. Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer, an RCMP spokesman, said last week: "In the spirit of our bias-free policing, the RCMP will not be disclosing statistics on the ethnicity of the perpetrators..."
But, on Tuesday, Sgt. Pfleiderer said he had no idea if the new report would contain statistics about the ethnicity of those who had committed the crimes.
Mr. Valcourt's statements greatly angered several chiefs, including Bernice Martial, the Grand Chief of Treaty Six. Ms. Martial wrote to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson on March 26 to demand the release of all of the RCMP data about murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Ms. Martial told The Globe in a telephone interview on Tuesday she had no idea a second report was coming. Representatives of the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada, who have led the calls for an inquiry, also expressed surprise that there would be a second report.
"I am happy to have it," Ms. Martial said. But she disputes Mr. Valcourt's claim that 70 per cent of the indigenous women who have been murdered were killed by indigenous men. "I know the information is not accurate," she said.
And regardless of who the perpetrators are, Ms. Martial said, the government has a responsibility to protect aboriginal women.
Mr. Valcourt and other members of the Conservative government have been saying since last fall that a public inquiry is not necessary because there have been multiple studies on the issue. Mr. Valcourt and other Tories have also said they know who is killing native women: native men. They have also been arguing that the murders and disappearances are largely the result of domestic violence.
Niki Ashton, the NDP aboriginal affairs critic, said on Tuesday the government is "engaging in race baiting and blaming the violence that indigenous women face on indigenous men and indigenous communities and absolving themselves of any responsibility to deal with this at the broader level."
And Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal critic, said the government is preoccupied with finger pointing. "They should stop these cynical political games," Ms. Bennett said, "and instead call the independent public inquiry needed to create justice for the victims, healing for their families, and to end this ongoing national disgrace."