When the body of Tina Fontaine was pulled from the Winnipeg River late last month it re-ignited a fierce debate about Canada’s response to the inordinate number of missing and murdered aboriginal women over the last 3 decades. This is an issue that shows how far off-track Stephen Harper can be when something does not capture his imagination. Instead of joining with the growing number of Canadians who feel there it is time for the federal government to take the lead on the issue, the Prime Minister has brushed aside widespread calls for an inquiry into the phenomenon again and again.
For the Prime Minister this is an open and shut case of violent crime and not a societal pattern that deserves a closer look. The problem is that the facts do not bear out that assessment. That has been confirmed by an RCMP report released in May that stated nearly 1,200 aboriginal women and girls had been murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012. The report also found women in this one particular demographic are five times more likely to be murdered than non-aboriginal women. Even if we want to view this in merely criminal terms, the statistics point to a specific problem that deserves significant attention.
Eric Robinson, Manitoba’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is blunter than most politicians in his assessment of the Prime Minister’s opinion on the matter. He feels that “Indian people are viewed to be dispensable, in a lot of ways,” which is a powerful statement coming from this well respected and long serving politician. Others have speculated that things would be different if these were non-aboriginal women, which is a statement that has been repeatedly dismissed as jaded.
Despite the ongoing pattern and strong call for an inquiry, Harper and his Conservatives continually push back claiming the issue has been studied enough. This ignores the fact that many of the studies are only somewhat related to the issue while others, such as those undertaken by Parliamentary Committees (particularly during the Conservative majority term), are tainted and lopsided with reports designed to make sure the government looks good first and foremost.
Thomas Mulcair is saying enough is enough and promised that an NDP government will launch an investigation into murdered and missing Indigenous women which is a position I support whole heartedly. Only a few weeks back I attended a vigil for Sonia Cywink in Whitefish River First Nation where others also shared their stories of aboriginal women from the riding who have been murdered – showing this is not something that just happens to other people in faraway places.
Clearly the time has come for Canada to make a move that will turn the tide for future generations of aboriginal women. The Prime Minister does not want to hear how the problem has a strong correlation to other long standing challenges like systemic poverty or the unequal education opportunities children receive in underfunded First Nation schools. But without a thorough and wide-ranging examination of how this one group is falling victim to violent crime at a rate that eclipses all others in Canada, we will be left with a legacy of inaction defined by a lack of interest. That’s not the Canada that many people would be happy with.
NDP Press Release