Missing Aboriginal Women – John Rafferty MP

Violence in Thunder Bay against women
Leading the walk to remember murdered and missing women as the group departs City Hall
Indigenous women Elders The Eagle Feathers and Smudge along with tobacco at City Hall - Image taken with permission
The Eagle Feathers and Smudge along with tobacco at City Hall – Image taken with permission

How Many Aboriginal Women Will Go Missing Before Action is Taken?

John Rafferty MP
John Rafferty MP

THUNDER BAY – What if I told you that possibly hundreds of women and their children were victims of murder and human trafficking in and around Thunder Bay and the port of Duluth?  How would you feel?  What would you want to do about it?  Sadly, this exact scenario was reported recently by the CBC. 

[sws_pullquote_right]Real victims of abuse, murder, kidnapping and human trafficking right here in our community. So what can be done? [/sws_pullquote_right] I hope by now that you have heard of Canada’s “Stolen Sisters.”  If you have not, then this column will be a shocking read.  If you have heard of these women and live in Northwestern Ontario then I fear that you will be equally shocked to learn that there are credible reports of many women from Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario becoming victims of sexual crimes and human trafficking via the port at Duluth Minnesota. 

It is estimated that over 500 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing under violent circumstances in Canada in the past 25 years.  Victims of the violence that first nation women often face in their households and communities have come forward over the years to publicize their own abuse, to ask for help from police forces and governments to end the violence, and to gain media exposure for this ‘Made-In-Canada’ epidemic of violence against women.  The missing women are referred to as our Stolen Sisters.

This column is far too short to recount the entire story or history of the Stolen Sisters, so please consult the following two websites for more information if you would like to learn more (and I hope you will):http://www.stolensisters.com/ (the official website of a documentary on the subject), http://tinyurl.com/Amnesty-StolenSisters (A 2004 Amnesty International Report on these women).

In the recent CBC report, which you can watch/read at http://tinyurl.com/CBC-Human-Trafficking-TBay, a researcher at the University of Duluth, Christine Stark, has uncovered several reports of women, teenage girls and boys, as well as babies being sold on ships for sex.  Ms. Stark was quoted in the report, and argued that; “The women and children — and I’ve even had women talk about a couple of babies brought onto the ships and sold to the men on ships — are being sold or are exchanging sex for alcohol, a place to stay, drugs, money and so forth.”  Ms. Stark goes on to say; “I have spoken with a woman who was brought down from Thunder Bay on the ships and talks about an excessive amount of trafficking between Canada and the Duluth-Superior harbour. There is a very strong link between Thunder Bay and Duluth.” 

It is difficult to describe the range of emotion that these words generate.  Real victims of abuse, murder, kidnapping and human trafficking right here in our community.  So what can be done?

The first thing we all can and should do is to share this CBC story and these other links with our family, friends, and neighbours – directly and personally. We must make sure that as many as people as possible are aware of this violent epidemic that is occurring right here in our city and our region.  We all have the power to do this simple act and I believe that it is our collective moral responsibility to do so on behalf of those who are unable. 

The second thing we can do is support efforts by groups like the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) who continue to work to put our Stolen Sisters on the local, provincial, and national media agenda.   We need to make more Canadians and their elected representatives aware of these hundreds of cases of human suffering and to reinforce with them that is happening to our citizens, within our own borders, and in our own communities.

The third thing we can all do, but which I am in a unique position to do, is to pressure the federal government (which has constitutional jurisdiction on this matter), to establish a Royal Commission on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women.  At an estimated cost of $100 million, which is less than the cost of one F-35 fighter, we can bring together academics, police, government, and representatives of the First Nation community to testify, share evidence, and develop a national strategy to end the violence and murder of these hundreds of innocent women.

As a Canadian citizen, an elected official, and a resident of Northwestern Ontario I hope you will join the effort to end the murder, sexual violence, and human trafficking that is facing hundreds if not thousands of First Nation women and children across Canada and in our community, and above all to bring justice to our Stolen Sisters.

John Rafferty MP

Thunder Bay Rainy River

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.