The RCMP has just released some new statistics that aim to broaden the level of information we have about murdered and missing Indigenous women. Oddly enough this release comes amid calls for the resignation of the current Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Bernard Valcourt.
Before I begin with this article, I would like to remind the readers that these are real women. They are not faceless statistics. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties and grandmothers. They are our friends, our cousins and our family. Therefore, when discussing this issue we must always remember that they are not just some statistic to be thrown around aimlessly.
Here is a photo of two friends of mine, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander who have been missing for 7 years. These women are daughters, friends and family. They are real people and not just some statistic. Hopefully this can remind us and remind my self to keep this conversation respectful for both the women and their families.
This new information released by the RCMP reports that 70% of murdered Indigenous women are killed by Indigenous men. At face value this statistic is very troubling. As it shifts blame back onto Indigenous communities. Specifically Indigenous men. This stifles any effort that Indigenous leaders are putting into having a national inquiry. The argument I am sure will be presented by the Minister that taxpayers should not front a bill for a national inquiry when this is “obviously” an issue we Indigenous people have created for ourselves. Luckily, some of us in this world know better than to take things at face value. Unlike news agencies like the National Post who feel as though spreading statistics without any qualitative data is helpful. It’s odd that I am again dealing with the National Post when it comes to bad journalism. However, many outlets are pushing this story as though the statistic is plain and simple. Well it’s not. This article will show how this 70% statistic is misleading and why an inquiry is necessary to prevent misinformation like this from capturing Canadian audiences.
For this analysis we are going to use the same statistics given to us by the RCMP in 2014:
I will begin by highlighting that Indigenous women in Canada make up 4.3% of the female population. Yet, represent 16% of all female murders on record and 5% of all murders in Canada. The current number that the RCMP has disclosed regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women is 1,181. With 1,017 being murdered which is not a number to be taken lightly and 184 missing. With that being said those numbers are debated among some. As some have argued the number goes well over 1, 200 women.
Now one issue here is that many including the RCMP and the Federal government will now assume that this 70% statistic is a clear-cut marker of the problem. The problem with that is that this statistic only represents the solved cases of murdered Indigenous women. It does not address the unsolved cases and it does not address the cases of missing women. Some of whom may be declared dead, yet not murdered. Meaning we have 225 unresolved cases if not more that we know nothing about in relation to whom the perpetrator is. This is probably the biggest issue with how this statistic is being presented. Since the way the statistic is worded is as if all murdered and missing Indigenous women are being taken from us by Indigenous men. However, this is not the case. What the RCMP is really saying is 70% of murdered Indigenous women, who are murdered by men and the murders are solved; are committed by Indigenous men. We discussed that there is disagreement over the actual numbers being presented to us about how many women have been actually murdered and are missing. This means we cannot take this statistic as pure factual evidence. Rather, its more of a guesstimate. Based on a guesstimate of how many women have actually been murdered.
It is important to know that these statistics do not include numbers of unreported missing women. Nor does it include the numbers where cause of death has yet to be determined.
The RCMP made another significant statistical error when releasing these numbers. Which is they made it seem as though 100% of cases involving murdered Indigenous women are committed by men. However, as their same statistical report from last year tells us; 89% of murdered Indigenous women are murdered by men, leaving a margin of 11% of murders being committed by women. Now I am not trying to shift blame here. Rather trying to show that the 11% which the RCMP failed to add to their 70% statistic would have had a skewing effect on the numbers they released. Since they claimed that the perpetrators are men and are 70% Aboriginal, 25% non-Aboriginal and 5% unknown ethnicity, whatever that means. This comes up to 100%. See how this becomes a misleading stat?
Another issue here is that the RCMP chose to specify the ethnicity of Aboriginal perpetrators while leaving every other ethnicity out of the picture. 25% non-Aboriginal, does that mean caucasian or black? Furthermore, what does unknown ethnicity mean exactly? I would also beg to ask the question of how they determined the Aboriginal ethnicity of 70% of the offenders while obviously being unable to determine who the non-Aboriginals are and who the other perpetrators are exactly. Were all the Aboriginal perpetrators card-carrying status Indians or did they self identify when arrested?
This identity issue leads us into another issue. The Federal government has power over who can be called an Aboriginal or not. They also oversee RCMP operations. So the question becomes what criteria has the Federal government put on the RCMP is determining the ethnicity of offenders. If someone identifies as Aboriginal at the police station do we just automatically say okay and mark that section off? This is a huge issue which of course could skew the numbers again.
Finally, to really understand the systemic problem here we have to examine where the RCMP is truly failing Indigenous women. That is on the streets. As only 60% of sex trade related deaths are solved. This 70% statistic makes it seem as though Indigenous men would be committing these crimes as well. However, as a study done by the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (IJO) has shown; white men are more likely to partake in prostitution. Furthermore, a study done by the non-profit Prostitution Research and Education; has shown that 21% of males who partake in these activities do so because of racial or sexual stereotypes associated with the women they are exploiting. So if we want to analyze statistics, it could be argued that the driving force behind the sex trade in Canada is white men, who are playing out ideals of sexual stereotypes of Indigenous women. Furthermore, it is often these women who are forgotten. It is often these women whose deaths and disappearances will not be reported, as we saw in the Pickton trial. What this all means is that there is a huge gap in the statistics which are complied and presented to the public by the RCMP. That gap is in relation to prostitution and the systemic issues surrounding that part of our society. I would be very confident in saying that excluding a detailed analysis of women who are murdered while in the sex trade would of course mostly implicate Indigenous men. Since excluding a discussion around that excludes the countless number of white men who may be implicit in the sexualization of Indigenous women and in the unresolved or unreported cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. More importantly the women forgotten in this case are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.
All in all this article has attempted to show that statistics cannot be taken at face value. They must be analyzed and examined, hence why an inquiry is necessary. Without proper examination of the statistics given to us, these statistics will cause more harm than good. Therefore, an inquiry where all of these issues are discussed and presented will give us a full and detailed insight into the biggest social problem in Canada.
But, let’s not play fools here. Bernard Valcourt needed data to back his claims that we Indigenous men are the real monsters here, especially amid calls for his resignation. He needed to show that it’s not Canada’s problem, it’s an Indian problem. Therefore, a miraculous statistic showed up to back his claims. The nature of how this statistic came to be must be questioned in that RCMP broke protocol to protect the credibility of a politician. That, in and of itself, is an issue that must be questioned and examined to better determine how and where this statistic came from.
Whatever the numbers may be, Indigenous men are involved at some level with the disappearances and murder of Indigenous women. We as Indigenous men need to address that and take some responsibility on some level with regards to that. However, it is not as simple as some like Bernard Valcourt would make it out to be. Many systemic and social issues exist as a direct result of colonization. These issues have perpetuated violence in Indigenous communities and cannot be simply dumbed down to simple concepts like a lack of respect for Indigenous women by Indigenous men as Bernard Valcourt claimed. Althought, that may exist in some situations which does need to be addressed. We cannot sweep these things under the rug because its too hard to deal with our own implications towards our mutual suffering. Addressing these things will help. We need to start looking in as well as out.
Regardless, none of what I have just said should affect the general discussions and actions taken to prevent Indigenous women from coming into harms way. Whether or not Indigenous men are truly to blame does not matter at the end of the day. These women’s lives matter and must be the first priority. Therefore, let us not let this cloud the reality that Indigenous women are dying at the hands of men. White, black, yellow, brown – all still men. At its core, men are the problem. Therefore, it is an issue needs to be tackled and the blame need be on all men. Not on certain types of men as was done in the south during an era of immense racism, which saw black men become sexual monsters that white women should be afraid of. Is that where Canada is headed? Are we going to sexualize Indigenous women and make monsters out of Indigenous men? I hope not. Yet we may already be in that period.