Over the past few months Canada’s Conservative government has been resisting pressure to call an inquiry into reports of more than 1000 unresolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls dating back to the 1960s. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has documented 582 unresolved cases in the last ten years alone. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has not denied the possibility that more than 1000 victims’ cases remain open. The government’s refusal to call a national inquiry is just the latest example of their systematic attempt to silence the voice of Aboriginal people and shift the narrative away from anything that paints a less than rosy picture of the situation of Native people in Canada.
However, the Conservatives might not be able to get away with this much longer following the recent release of a scathing UN report which was met by a large demonstration on Parliament Hill.
Following a confrontation with protesters who disrupted a photo-op, Justice Minister Peter MacKay has agreed to meet with the families of victims, but the government remains steadfast in its refusal to order a national inquiry in which the voices of victims and their families can be heard.
Let’s see how the situation has come about:
1. The government is turning a blind eye to the stats.
The stats clearly indicate that something is going on. Aboriginal women and girls are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. NWAC also reports that while Aboriginal women comprise just 3% of the female population of Canada they represent 10% of all female homicides. While there is no national database of missing persons in Canada, the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police report that Aboriginal women and girls make up 59% percent of all missing persons in that province. Aboriginal women are also the fastest growing population in federal prisons. A UN report on the ‘Situation of indigenous people in Canada’, released this week, states that Aboriginal women represent 33% of the prison population. This government has never been swayed by the facts, but their willful dismissal of the problem seems especially egregious in this case.
2. They’re attempting to undermine anyone who gets too close to the truth.
A report conducted by consultant Helen Roos in association with Pauktuutit, an advocacy group representing Inuit women, paints a disturbing picture of poverty, sexual abuse, child exploitation and human trafficking in Canada’s North. Yet Leona Aglukkaq, the MP for Nunavut and Minister for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, has attempted to discredit the researcher and the report. She claims that it was done from the outside without proper consultation. Despite this, she did not dispute any of the report’s claims. This attempt to discredit the author is demonstrative of the Conservative government’s systematic attempt to shift the narrative without disputing or addressing any of the claims.
3. Government lip service and a refusal to engage has led to Native scepticism.
Successive governments have produced more than 40 reports over the last 15 years. The lack of any resolution has led to scepticism within the Aboriginal community about the efficacy of any possible national inquiry. The awareness group No More Silence argues that money is better spent at the grassroots community-based level. For other Aboriginal groups, the government’s refusal to order a national inquiry has become symbolic of their refusal to admit that there is a problem. War Lake First Nation Chief Betsy Kennedy was the only Aboriginal woman invited to testify before a Commons committee examining the economic leadership of women and the barriers that exist in society. When she attempted to bring up the issue of a national inquiry, she was cut off by Conservative MP Joan Crockatt who stated: “I am sure we would love to hear what the Chief has to say on the topic but it’s not really what the topic of the study is about.” The MP’s refusal to recognize that systematic structural violence directed towards Aboriginal women may be a barrier to their economic prosperity is indicative of their refusal to engage with Aboriginal groups in any meaningful way.
4. The many-headed hydra of the Canadian establishment has created a divided resistance.
Unlike the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram there is no pre-packaged narrative or singular villain to accompany this story. What we have is a history of systematic and structural violence that belies any attempt at simplistic narrative or easy solutions. Further, Aboriginal groups are divided over the issue and rightly sceptical of the federal government’s ability to deal with this issue. Successive governments and the Canadian people have turned a blind eye to the problems faced by Aboriginal people and the systematic and structural abuse faced by Aboriginal women and girls. These issues cannot be resolved simply through a national inquiry, but it would represent an opportunity for the victims to be heard. The Conservative government will continue to attempt to shift the narrative away from this issue, so it also represents an important point of solidarity with those whose voice the government is committed to silencing.