Stephen Harper’s contention that a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women is not needed because these crimes aren’t a “sociological phenomenon” is simply wrong — and woefully ignorant.
The prime minister’s dismissive comments come on the heels of renewed calls for an inquiry after Winnipeg police found the body of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl, Tina Fontaine, wrapped in a bag and dumped in Winnipeg’s Red River.
In response to the cry for a national inquiry from the two opposition parties, the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women’s Association, among others, Harper said this: “We should not view this as sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime.”
He added: “The vast majority of these cases are addressed and are solved through police investigations.”
True enough; police have said that their “clearance rate” for murdered aboriginal women (they estimate there have been 1,000 since 1980) is the same as for non-aboriginals.
But the point of a national inquiry is not to solve individual cases. That is indeed the job of the police.
It is, instead, to shine a spotlight on the staggering sociological — yes, Mr. Harper, sociological — factors that lead to aboriginal women’s disproportionate representation among those women who are murdered, missing and assaulted every year.
The goal of an inquiry would be to prevent more crimes, not simply solve the ones already committed.
As for it not being a sociological phenomenon, how can Harper explain these statistics?
That aboriginal women account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women in Canada when they make up only 2.1 per cent of the population.
That aboriginal women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence, more likely to be attacked by strangers, and three times more likely to become the target of violence than non-aboriginal women.
That aboriginal women’s lives are five years shorter than the lives of non-aboriginal women. That 8 per cent of aboriginal teenage girls are parents compared to 1.3 per cent of non-aboriginal girls. Or that 18 per cent of aboriginal women, compared to 8 per cent of non-aboriginal women, are lone parents.
That household crowding, which is linked to increased family violence, is experienced by 31 per cent of Inuit women and only 3 per cent of non-aboriginal females.
That the Institute on Governance found “between 70 per cent of sexually exploited youth and 50 per cent of adult sex workers in Winnipeg are of aboriginal descent,” when aboriginals only make up 10 per cent of the city’s population.
Or this visceral statistic: that of the 33 women whose DNA was found on serial killer Robert Picton’s farm, 12 were aboriginal.
How are those out-of-whack statistics possible unless there are sociological factors at work?
Here’s one last “sociological phenomenon” for the prime minister to contemplate: In 2013, nearly half of the 30,000 children in foster care in Canada under the age of 14 were aboriginal.
Tina Fontaine was in foster care when she was killed.
Today a service for her will be held on the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.
It should serve as a turning point toward a national inquiry so we can understand the sociological factors at play in the disproportionate number of crimes against native girls and women — and actually do something to prevent them.