THE GAZETTE (Montreal)
MONTREAL — The kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram has rightly ignited outrage around the globe.
Worldwide anger is directed as much at the Nigerian government’s slowness to respond and impotency in mounting a rescue as toward the terrorists threatening to sell 276 captive teenagers into slavery or forced marriage.
Pope Francis and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama have lent their voices to a social-media campaign using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and featuring rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. Protests have been held internationally, including in Montreal.
World powers including the U.S., France, Britain, Israel and Canada have offered assistance to Nigeria’s government in trying to locate and free the girls, who were abducted by gunmen from their government school in the country’s northeast April 14 while writing exams.
New footage of the schoolgirls wearing black hijabs, pledging allegiance to Islam and looking terrified, along with images of their distraught parents, are particularly heartbreaking in light of Mother’s Day this past weekend.
Boko Haram translates as “Western education is sinful.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof eloquently summed up the geopolitical stakes in a weekend column titled “What’s so scary about smart girls?” The education of girls, he wrote, has a hugely transformative impact on a society, from contributing to economic prosperity to fostering political stability.
The thought of Nigeria’s best and brightest daughters — good, intelligent girls with hopes, dreams and ambitions — being held hostage or trafficked into sexual slavery strikes a deeply personal chord for millions of people in the West and the Third World alike.
But closer to home in Canada, there is another disturbing tragedy playing out involving girls and young women that is equally appalling and deserving of attention.
This month, the RCMP revealed that it has now counted 1,200 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada over the last 30 years — far more than any previous tally and disproportionately high for their share of the population.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson called the calculation “a surprise” — which in itself is shocking, given First Nations leaders have been sounding the alarm for years and complaining of a dismissive attitude from law enforcement. A comprehensive report is imminent.
While a full accounting of how many mothers, sisters, daughters and granddaughters in Canada have quietly disappeared is an important first step in facing up to this horrendous phenomenon, it is only the beginning of what is required.
For more than a year, since a parliamentary committee report on the alarming issue was tabled, there have been calls for a public inquiry.
The New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party have backed First Nations leaders in their demands for such an inquiry, as have provincial premiers, territorial leaders, Human Rights Watch and now the United Nations.
The Conservative government has so far refused to order an investigation, instead touting a strategy focusing on public awareness, support for victims’ families and better policing data.
But what good is an action plan if no one knows why so many aboriginal women and girls were killed or vanished in the first place, or what might have been done differently?
Canada has seen fit to offer surveillance equipment to Nigeria and personnel to use it, which is laudable.
But Canada needs to undertake a full reckoning of its own shameful record of ignorance and neglect when it comes to actively investigating the disappearance of aboriginal women.
An inquiry will not bring back the lost 1,200, but it might help save many beloved daughters.
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