This video took some time to find as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives CCPA 30th Anniversary Conference and Dinner page links either don’t work or are outdated. The morning session presentation (video linked above) at the November 18, 2010 event covered a popular ‘progressive’ campaign that’s recently been trotted back out as a social wedge issue to kick off what’s looking to be a year-long federal election campaign: A federal inquiry into nearly 500 “missing OR murdered” Aboriginal women in Canada.
The popular phrase is first mentioned at about 5:35 into the presentation. It’s attributed to a 2004 (not, as the speaker notes, 2005) Amnesty International report:
NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada) believes that the incidents that have come to light are part of a larger pattern of violent assaults, murders and disappearances of Indigenous women across Canada. The organization has estimated that over the past twenty years more than five hundred Indigenous women may have been murdered or gone missing in circumstances suggesting violence. (emphasis added)
According to the 2006 Census, there were about 625,000 women age 15 or older of Aboriginal ancestry in Canada that year (400,000 deemed to have Aboriginal identity). Averaging out 25 “(assaulted OR) missing OR murdered” Aboriginal women per year, that’s 0.004%, or about 1 in 25,000 Aboriginal women age 15+ falling into one of those categories each year (0.00625% or 1 in 16,000, based on Aboriginal identity). Or so NWAC believes. Or estimates. Maybe.
Context is important when it comes to stats (not that the NWAC guesstimate constitutes stats). Keeping 2006 as the reference point, Transport Canada estimated about 203,000 “injuries OR fatalities” in Canadian motor vehicle collisions that year. The 2006 Census estimated total population age 15 or older at about 25 million, meaning about 1 of every 125 Canadians was injured OR killed in a motor vehicle accident the same year.
Assuming the rate applies to Aboriginal women, they would have been about 200 times more likely to be injured OR killed in a motor vehicle incident than to be “(assaulted OR) missing OR murdered” that year (128 times, based on Aboriginal identity). Where’s the outrage demanding a federal inquiry into the nearly 200,000 Canadians injured OR killed in a motor vehicle accident each year? Over twenty years, that would be a huge share of the population.
Reasonable people would find it rather disingenuous to lump motor vehicle fatalities in with injuries. And they’d be right, hence the facetious use of ‘or’ in CAPS. Of the cited 203,000 motor vehicle incidents in 2006, only about 3,000 were fatalities. Likewise, most of the “missing OR murdered” Aboriginal women are likely missing.
Of the twenty or so Aboriginal women referenced in the 2004 Amnesty report who went missing and were eventually found dead or murdered, it’s not a mystery why they went missing, what they ended up doing nor why they ended up doing it. The 36-page Amnesty report includes 10 references to ‘assault’, 32 to ‘sex trade’, 18 to ‘drug(s)’ and 8 to ‘addict(ion/s)’.
A number of thoughtful critiques, including a column by the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson, have pointed out the numerous inquiries that have taken place over the years, along with the myriad policy proposals they’ve generated. The 2004 Amnesty report dedicates a fair bit of coverage to a rather extensive and thorough Manitoba Justice Inquiry, noting the inquiry generated 150 provincial and federal policy recommendations, few of which had been implemented by the time the report was published.
So if the causes and policy options regarding missing Aboriginal women are known, then why has so little been done? Because the real underlying problem is far more complex, missing and murdered Aboriginal women – and, as the Toronto Star dutifully points out, missing and murdered Aboriginal men – but symptoms of that greater problem.
While yet another inquiry, as proposed by the ‘progressives’, amounts to little more than political posturing, the hollow proposals put forward by the conservative federal government today are likewise politics as usual. As if reminding the RCMP to be a bit more diligent and a bit less racist in their interactions with and disposition towards Canada’s Aboriginal people, along with vague programs to ‘empower’ Aboriginal women, will do the trick.
Canada’s colonial heritage and its indigenous people have a long and sordid history that pre-dates Canada itself. For fear of committing sociology, the dire living conditions and self-destructive tendencies prevalent among far too many First Nations communities today are rooted in that long and unfortunate history. Real, lasting solutions will require honest and substantial redress of some long-lingering historical sleights.
To underscore the referenced ‘progressive’ priority problem, the NDP used a procedural tactic on Friday to force a debate. The rare opportunity was wasted repeating the party’s call for a national inquiry into missing OR murdered Aboriginal women, flagging the issue as a top (hypothetical “first 100 days”) priority.
Likely in response to critiques of its misguided priorities (including this one), the NDP tried, but ultimately failed, to frame the issue in broader historical context. An impassioned speech by NDP MP Romeo Saganash referenced Canada’s colonial heritage and its treatment of indigenous people (sound familiar?), and shared a personal anecdote that had nothing to do with violence against Aboriginal women.
Apparently the personal anecdote was meant to suggest that a federal inquiry would provide ‘closure’ for the families of missing OR murdered Aboriginal women. It’s unclear how such an inquiry would provide any more closure than regular police investigations into the circumstances of missing Aboriginal women subsequently found dead or murdered (as undertaken for all missing persons subsequently found deceased).
Is the hope that a federal inquiry will somehow lead to finding more missing Aboriginal women? If so, how? And how will it be any more effective or informative than myriad inquiries that have already taken place, including the Manitoba Justice Inquiry covered in great detail in the 2004 Amnesty report that ‘progressives’, including Mr. Saganash, regularly mis-cite? (See original quote above – Amnesty International did not ‘find’ anything; it just cited NWAC in its report.)