BY STEPHEN MAHER, POSTMEDIA NEWS
In February, when analysts from the Library of Parliament submitted a draft report to the parliamentary committee that had spent a year studying violence against aboriginal women, they included this recommendation: “That the federal government establish a national commission of public inquiry to analyse violence against Aboriginal women and girls, in particular those who are missing or have been murdered.”
When the report was released on March 7, though, after closed-door meetings, the Conservative-dominated committee had removed that recommendation, in keeping with the government’s opposition to an inquiry.
MPs decided not to call for an inquiry without knowing the scale of the problem. The Native Women’s Association of Canada had identified 582 missing or murdered aboriginal women, but because police don’t collect racial data of victims, NWAC told MPs the number was likely higher.
The day the report was released, a source told Kenneth Jackson, a reporter for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, that the RCMP would release a report March 31 that would reveal that more than 1,000 aboriginal women had been murdered or gone missing.
When the report was not released as expected, Jackson started digging. This week he reported that the Mounties had a number and hadn’t released it.
When reporters cornered RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson on Parliament Hill, he revealed the number: 1,026 murdered and 160 missing aboriginal women over 30 years: 40 women a year.
If the RCMP had those numbers before the committee did its report, it ought to have given them to the MPs. But a communications protocol this government brought in, in 2011, allows political staff in the office of the public safety minister to decide what information the RCMP releases.
The government does not appear to like discussing missing and murdered aboriginal women, likely because doing anything about it would cost money, and there are no votes in it for them. Governments in general, and this one specifically, are machines for clumsily turning money into votes. Every dollar spent on aboriginal policing is a dollar less to spend on snowmobile trails or Economic Action Plan ads.
That’s politics, but oh, this is a heartbreaking problem.
Consider that 87 per cent of the murdered and missing women and girls are mothers.
As the parliamentary report says: “This finding is troubling, especially since NWAC’s research shows a cycle in which ‘a mother would go missing, and then the daughter would go missing years later. In some particular family lines, several individuals have gone missing.’ These cases also impact the many children who now have to live without a mother.”
In question period on Thursday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair pointed out that there are about as many aboriginals in Canada as there are people in Ottawa. “If 1,000 women were killed or murdered in Ottawa would we need to beg for an inquiry?”
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney responded: “If the leader of the Opposition really wants to make change happen, then I urge him to support the Conservative government’s 2014 budget, which allocates $25 million for a strategy precisely to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.”
But that section of the budget proposes the “renewal of $25 million over five years beginning in 2015-16 to continue efforts to reduce violence against Aboriginal women and girls.”
That’s just $5 million a year, it’s not new money, and it’s not targeted. It includes, for example, $1.3 million a year for a national DNA database.
On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said there should not be an inquiry. “There (have) been some 40 studies done over the years; now is the time to take action, not to continue to study the issue,” Harper said.
I don’t believe he would talk like that that if we were talking about 1,026 dead white women, and I don’t think the government is taking action proportionate to the problem.
When the RCMP releases its report in the coming weeks it may spur the government to act. That may be why its release is being delayed, to give the government time to prepare a plan. The RCMP report will point out that “aboriginal women make up four per cent of Canada’s population; however, they represent 16 per cent of all murdered females and 12 per cent of all missing females on record,” Sgt. Greg Cox said Friday.
The RCMP have “identified key vulnerability factors for the victims as well as information on the perpetrators,” which will allow police to “refocus prevention initiatives in high-risk communities.”
That sounds like a good start, but it’s hard to believe that an inquiry isn’t warranted. As Patrick Brazeau pointed out in 2012, back when he was still a senator, this government spent $26 million on a public inquiry into missing salmon.
“If we can have a national inquiry on fish, I’m sure we can give the respect to aboriginal peoples and offer an inquiry.”