The lives of Indigenous women and girls count

Recent comments by the RCMP concerning the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada do a great disservice by creating uncertainty, where clarity and urgency are required. The lives of Indigenous women and girls count. These are some well-document facts and figures about violence against Aboriginal women in Canada:

  • First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls in Canada face much higher rates of violence than other women.
  • The exact numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women are not known, largely because police in Canada do not consistently record or report whether or not the victims of violent crime are Indigenous.
  • However, the best available evidence, including studies by Statistics Canada, research by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and the accounts of families and frontline service providers all consistently point to levels of violence that constitute nothing less than a national human rights crisis.
  • The scale and severity of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls requires a concerted national response that must be comprehensive, coordinated, and developed in collaboration with Indigenous women themselves.

According to the most recent study by Statistics Canada, in more than 60 percent of homicides in Canada police never identify whether or not the victim was Aboriginal.
The fact that this information is not being recorded has serious consequences for understanding of violence against Indigenous women and for allocating resources to address this violence.

Although Amnesty International and Indigenous women’s organizations have been raising this concern for a decade, most police forces in Canada still do not have guidelines or training to ensure that they record this information correctly. As stated in our original 2004 Stolen Sisters report, some police never identify whether or not the victims of violent crime are Aboriginal because they fear that doing so would expose them to allegations of racism or racial profiling. Other police inaccurately identify the victims of violent crime only if the persons “looks Aboriginal” to them.

The problem of police not consistently or accurately recording the Aboriginal identity of victims of homicide and other violent crimes is not the only problem. As a new report by Human Rights Watch powerfully illustrates, the wide gulf of mistrust and misunderstanding between police and Indigenous communities means that Indigenous women may never come forward to report crimes such as sexual assault and other violence. We also know that the knowledge that child and family service agencies are more likely to take away Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children creates additional reasons for Indigenous women to fear coming forward.

What we do know with certainty is that Indigenous women and girls face widespread and severe forms of violence, that this violence targets Indigenous women from all walks of life, and that not enough is being done about it.

The best available data that has been analyzed by Statistics Canada suggests that the homicide rate for Indigenous women in Canada is at least seven times higher than for non-Indigenous women.

Saskatchewan, which to our knowledge is the only jurisdiction to have conducted a thorough review of all its long-term missing persons files to examine possible patterns of disappearance of Indigenous women, found that 60 percent of missing women were Indigenous, even though at the time Indigenous people made up only 6 percent of the provincial population.

It’s time for police and governments to act on the information they already have, rather than making excuses for inaction. The lives of Aboriginal women and girls matter. Nothing less than a national action plan is required.