THUNDER BAY – FEATURE – Do you know any women or girls who live in the posh neighbourhood of Forest Hills in Toronto? Or perhaps the tony and old-money community of Westmount in Montreal, or maybe the trendy Shaughnessy enclave in Vancouver? What if well over 600 hundred of the women and girls who lived in these predominantly white neighbourhoods were murdered, violated or disappeared over three or four decades? What if many of these killings, assault and disappearances were never solved?
The politicians and police would be all over this like white on rice.
In meticulously detailed reports by both the National and Ontario Native Women’s Associations (NWAC / ONWA) they have collected data on cases of over 600 Aboriginal women and girls who have been murdered, disappeared or subjected to violent assault over a 25 year period. Far too many of these violent crimes are cold cases, collecting dust in the back of old filing cabinets somewhere. The statistics cited in these reports make a Stephen King horror story read like a Pollyanna picnic – and it is too easy to forget that each statistic cited is an Aboriginal woman, most often a mother, whose life has been terminated or changed forever and an extended family of loved ones left behind to grieve in turmoil with little or no opportunity of closure.
According to ONWA’s research 70 of the known cases analyzed relate to murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls in Ontario and the vast majority of those are murder cases. Equally troublesome, fully half of those cases involve women and girls under the age of 31. But perhaps the saddest figure of all is that 90% of murdered and disappeared Aboriginal women in Ontario are mothers who have left behind now motherless children. The generational impact of these violent crimes will be abundant and apparent.
So in light of the cries and pleas of loved ones, these vital reports and the demands of both NWAC and ONWA along with numerous Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders and organizations like, the Assembly of First Nations, The Canadian Premiers acting as the Council of the Federation, The Union of Ontario Indians, the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, Amnesty International, numerous provincial and territorial Aboriginal organizations, The Ontario Human Rights Commission, The Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Associations, Lawyers for Human Rights along with many faith communities – why is so little being done to address the murders, the disappearances, the violent assaults – both in terms of their resolution and their root causes?
These organizations have been unanimous in calling upon Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal government to initiate a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. As is his want, Stephen Harper has ignored these pleas and requests for such an inquiry coupled with a national action plan to address the violence and, equally important, the causes that underlay the ongoing aggression against one of Canada’s most vulnerable populations.
Joining the growing chorus of concern on this issue have been no less a prestigious body than the United Nations Human Rights Council which has been joined recently by James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who upon completing a ten day visit to Canada in October of last year stated: “I concur that a comprehensive and nationwide inquiry into the issue could help enure a coordinated response and the opportunity for the loved ones of the victims to be heard.
So why are we stuck on “no”? Why is our national government, aided and abetted by a corporate media which trivializes the violence against Aboriginal women by largely ignoring it, so hell-bent on steering clear of such a National Inquiry?
Some of the answers I provide in my column next month while not very pleasant, will not be surprising but the elephants in the room that we continue to ignore are really beginning to stink up the place.
Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Aboriginal Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister and recently retired as CEO of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. He invites comments on his columns at firstname.lastname@example.org