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June 22, 2015

Missing Aboriginal Women: Another Inquiry?

Reuel S. Amdur

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The positions taken by Aboriginal organizations and their supporters on what to do about the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women on the one hand and the Tory government on the other are strange. What is the Aboriginal side asking?

It is calling for a judicial inquiry into the murdered and missing Aboriginal women.  They contend that only such an inquiry will get to the truth about these crimes.  On the other hand, the government argues that such an inquiry is not needed.  Most deaths of the women are, the government points out, at the hands of Aboriginal men.  But the other side argues that one does not really know about what happened to the disappeared.  It is not clear how an inquiry will answer that question.

The strangeness of these positions is that setting up a judicial inquiry is in many, if not in most, cases a delaying tactic on the part of a government not wanting to take action.  One would think that the government would jump at the chance and that the Aboriginal side would argue, “Not another study.  We want action.” 

We already know things about the situation, without another inquiry. 

In the first place, Statistics Canada, looking at Aboriginal homicides from 2001 to 2011, reports much higher rates of male victims than of female ones.  Thus, if there were to be an inquiry it would make more sense to include men as well as women.  On the other hand, it would make even more sense to forego such an inquiry and instead do what Harper feels to be distasteful and commit sociology.

Secondly, the same Statistics Canada report shows that most of the Aboriginal women killed were killed by Aboriginal men.  This makes sense, as murder is most frequently a family affair, Aboriginal or not.

Third, the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women reported in the media largely involved women engaged in prostitution, a calling that is fraught with danger.  What more could a judicial inquiry tell us?

Fourth, British Columbia already carried out a judicial inquiry completed in 2012, headed by Wally Oppal.  He found that, indeed, their line of work made the women marginalized and vulnerable.  As well, he found that there were other factors that further contributed to their vulnerability and marginalization in many cases—poverty, poor housing, poor health and inadequate access to health care, food insecurity, and drug dependency.  He also found serious deficiencies in policing. 

In his analysis of the shortcomings of policing in the Robert Picton murders, Oppal identified and detailed the following:

I. Poor report taking and follow up on reports of missing women;

II. Faulty risk analysis and risk assessments;

III. Inadequate proactive strategy to prevent further harm to women in the DTES (Downtown East Side);

IV. Failure to follow Major Case Management practices and policies;

V. Failure to consider and properly pursue all investigative strategies;

VI. Failure to address cross-jurisdictional issues and ineffective coordination between police forces and agencies; and

VII. Failure of internal review and external accountability mechanisms.

What more would another judicial inquiry add?

The alternative to another study is action. 

The Harper government does not want an inquiry, but it is hardly enthusiastic about action. 

For example, take the case of Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.  Dr. Blackstock is a social worker with expertise in child welfare.  The Harper government has fought tooth and nail against her efforts to get equal funding for family services for on-reserve Aboriginal families.  Of course, she is wrong. 

As a result of the destructive cross-generational impact of the residential school system and the abject poverty and poor living conditions on reserves, even equal funding is not good enough.

But getting back to Blackstock, because she brought a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission demanding equal funding, the Harper government has been carrying out a program of harassment, leading to a decision of the Privacy Commissioner that the government had violated her privacy. 

The government spent millions spying on her to find something with which to discredit her. 

Now the Tribunal has penalized the Harper government because David McArthur, an aide to then-Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Chuck Strahl, barred her from attending a meeting about child welfare between First Nations heads and the minister.  The Tribunal awarded her $20,000.  Will the government appeal?

What would action instead of another study mean? 

Make Cindy Blackstock Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.  Give the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society more than it is asking.  Establish a targeted elimination of poor on-reserve housing and guarantee potable water access.  Provide full funding for education on reserve, including special education resources.  That might well be a beginning to address the problems which continue to lead to violence, family fragility, substance abuse, prostitution, and death.

Harper would, if push comes to shove, prefer a pointless judicial inquiry to such an alternative.  But what advantage would that be for Aboriginals? 

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