By Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas
It is with a heavy heart that I am writing about the ongoing tragedy of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, a national epidemic of violence that persists in devastating ever more families each year.
The dreadful cases of Bernice Rich, Loretta Saunders and Tina Fontaine – to name a few innocent victims murdered this year – have personalized the horrendous nature of the problem and prompted Aboriginal women to ask: “Am I next?”
According to a recent RCMP report, the tragedy has made more than 1,200 victims between 1980 and 2012. This is more than double the most pessimistic estimates available a few months ago. A stark reality of poverty, unemployment and violence is painted. It can be summarized in one simple – but outrageous – fact: Aboriginal women are five times more likely to be murdered than non-Aboriginal ones.
Action must be taken on several fronts:
It must be championed at the community, municipal, provincial and federal levels. While the renewed calls of premiers for a public inquiry are strong indicators of their commitment for improved services and programs, the federal government has been sending less than encouraging signals.
Their so-called action plan recently tabled is nothing more than a laundry list of existing piecemeal initiatives, many not specific to Aboriginal women and inadequate, as proven by the alarming RCMP figures.
More troubling is the Prime Minister’s view of the tragedy. He is not only dismissing calls for a public inquiry, but denying that this is a social phenomenon. For him, it is rather a series of isolated crimes that should be addressed through police investigations.
This government’s approach is quite disturbing.
Who believes that there is no correlation between the crisis and generalized gender and race-based discrimination, continued impoverishment or economic marginalization?
Shouldn’t we be proactive and do something before people are murdered or go missing?
If everything is known about the issue, why is it persisting and why are 20 per cent of the cases still unsolved? We need to understand how to bring the perpetrators to justice, provide closure to the families, and protect women from criminals walking free in their communities.
As a result of this government’s inaction, we are now dealing with Aboriginal communities that feel ignored. And, more importantly, we are no closer to ensuring that Aboriginal women are treated the same as any other Canadian woman when it comes to being protected against violent crimes.
The government needs to do much more. The conditions for a larger conversation must be created to send a strong signal to Aboriginal women that they are not “invisible” and to allow Canadians to better understand the challenges facing these women on and off reserves.
It would also provide an opportunity for a “foundational” look at the issue and form the basis for a comprehensive national action plan. Information, education and action need to go hand- in-hand to prevent this human crisis from persisting.
There is no alternative. Ignoring the calls of experts, organizations and citizens pleading for such conversation would not only be disrespectful but would indicate, not only to Aboriginal communities, but to all Canadians, that we are indeed indifferent as to “who is next.”