Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Missing or murdered indigenous women and girls

[...]Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) states that, “it is incredible that the RCMP is publicly doubting the number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls that has been documented in the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Database! The high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls that has been documented was based on accurate secondary source information that in many instances came directly from police reports that had further been corroborated by NWAC researchers with various police agencies.

NWAC collected and developed the Database of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women and girls between 2005 and 2010 through the Sisters In Spirit initiative, which was based on cases that were in the public domain. “Anyone can collect this information, it is there, but what is unique is that NWAC went beyond this general collection and spoke directly with many families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls and was able to augment the data to better determine what the needs and gaps are in terms of service delivery, programming, and policy services. I invite you to educate yourself, your family, friends and community, and visit the NWAC website and see the research for yourself,” said NWAC President Audette.
From here.

Last week Human Rights Watch released its report on the "Highway of Tears".
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in northern British Columbia has failed to protect indigenous women and girls from violence, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Women and girls Human Rights Watch interviewed also described abusive treatment by police officers, including excessive use of force, and physical and sexual assault.

The 89-page report, “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada,” documents both ongoing police failures to protect indigenous women and girls in the north from violence and violent behavior by police officers against women and girls. Police failures and abuses add to longstanding tensions between the [...] RCMP and indigenous communities in the region, Human Rights Watch said. The Canadian government should establish a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls, including the impact of police mistreatment on their vulnerability to violence in communities along Highway 16, which has come to be called northern British Columbia’s “Highway of Tears.”

“The threat of domestic and random violence on one side, and mistreatment by RCMP officers on the other, leaves indigenous women in a constant state of insecurity,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Where can they turn for help when the police are known to be unresponsive and, in some cases, abusive.”

Human Rights Watch conducted research along Highway 97 and along the 724-kilometer stretch of Highway 16 that has become infamous for the dozens of women and girls who have been reported missing or were found dead in its vicinity since the late 1960s. In July and August 2012, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 50 indigenous women and girls, and conducted an additional 37 interviews with families of murdered and missing women, indigenous leaders, community service providers, and others across 10 communities.

Indigenous women and girls told Human Rights Watch that the RCMP has failed to protect them. They also described instances of abusive policing, including excessive use of force against girls, strip searches of women by male officers, and physical and sexual abuse. One woman said that in July, four police officers took her to a remote location, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.

Women who call the police for help have been blamed for the abuse, shamed over alcohol or substance use, and have found themselves at risk of arrest for actions taken in self-defense, women and community service providers told Human Rights Watch.

“I will never forget that day,” said “Lena G.,” whose 15-year-old daughter’s arm was broken by a police officer after the mother called the police for help during an argument between her daughter and her daughter’s abusive boyfriend. “It’s the worst thing I ever did. I wish I didn’t call.”

Photo: 'Families of Sisters in Spirit'

This instance of systemic negligence, incompetence and, allegedly violence, by the RCMP with regard to missing or murdered indigenous women is not limited to BC.  It appears that the force in Manitoba has similar problems.
"While the stories in the Human Rights Watch report are based in British Columbia, they are eerily similar to the stories we hear from victims, families and friends affected by the missing and murdered indigenous issue in our territories," Nepinak said in a statement released Friday by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.[...]

A spokeswoman for Nepinak said the reference was about police dismissing reports about missing women.

"Most of the complaints we hear about against police is that they do not take missing reports seriously and even dismiss them," Sheila North Wilson said.

She cited a generally a poor attitude toward aboriginal people and aboriginal women. "Not all officers, of course, but (there are) some who make it hard for some of our people to trust police," she said.[...]

In Manitoba, approximately 80 cases of missing and aboriginal women date back decades. They are the long-term focus of a joint RCMP-Winnipeg police investigation set up a few years ago.
It happens in Ontario, too.  Thunder Bay for example has become the recent focus of activism for the purpose of making public, and mapping many flagrant cases of local police officers' complicity in an ongoing campaign of sexual terrorism directed at Indigenous women. Operation Thunderbird, it's called.

There is, in my humble opinion, a form of misogynist terrorism directed against all women, but it is specifically racist in the way that it targets women of  First Nations, Metis and Inuit ancestry in Canada. Elements of our Parliament's Committee on Public Safety and National Security definition apply: a “terrorist activity” is an act or omission undertaken “in whole or in part for a political, religious, or ideological purpose, objective or cause” that is intended to intimidate the public or compel a person, government or organization to do or refrain from doing any act, if the act or omission intentionally causes a specified serious harm. Specified harms include causing death or serious bodily harm, endangering life, causing a serious risk to health or safety...

As the HRW report underlines, indigenous women in BC are the target of sexual terrorism that appears to be aided and abetted with impunity by members of the RCMP.

Fundamentalist, gynophobic christian ideology fuelled the violence directed at aboriginal children sequestered in residential schools, as it continues to contaminate the murderous impulses of men bent upon doing harm to women.  I wrote about a little-known report regarding Robert Pickton's justification for his femicidal campaign.

I believe there are many other predators like Pickton across Canada, working alone or with the help of accomplices, some of whom might be cops.

I want to know where Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander are, and what happened to them. Their mothers, their families miss them.

This woman is my choice to head a National Inquiry into Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women and girls.  When she spoke at the Downtown Eastside Missing Women Inquiry, many RCMP and Vancouver Police staff attended with their pricy lawyers.

In an internal email sent by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson last week addressed the Human Rights Watch report on police mistreatment of indigenous women and girls in northern British Columbia, he said: “...don't worry about it, I've got your back.” 

It's likely this information was leaked to HRW.  Imagine the reaction of officers who are not complicit with RCMP systemic misogyny and racism.  This was a clear message from the Commissioner to those officers who acted as alleged by the HRW report that they would not be held accountable.  It was an implicit threat, silencing those who don't condone nor engage in such actions, a declaration that Paulson would protect the guilty - but not the whistle-blowers from retribution.

The RCMP went into attack mode when the HRW report was released and tried to discredit it or obtain the names of those who had provided information.

This is their default operating mode when the force is criticized; this is the plan to discredit female officers who have charged the RCMP work environment is toxic to women.

Imagine if the force used its considerable resources to actually investigate and stop crime, instead of allowing the thugs inside its ranks to run roughshod like unchecked mini-warlords. 

The last word goes to Chris Andersen and his hard-hitting post about what needs to happen.
Ultimately what is needed here is a national public inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The RCMP could play a powerful role in such an inquiry, since they sit on the front lines of these events. A public inquiry would not only allow a sober exploration of the structural inequities that has produced this national tragedy, but it could, as many inquiries do, represent a powerful moment of reconciliation and trust-building between Aboriginal nations, communities and families, on the one hand, and policy agencies, various levels of government and the public, on the other. However, this would require a level of introspection and acknowledgement of responsibility that seems permanently beyond the reach of the RCMP, as most policing agencies. And in remaining so, the RCMP continues to reveal its own heart of darkness: not only its inability to protect Aboriginal women from colonialism’s darkest moments, but its inability to admit its own responsibility in producing the events themselves.
The photo above is from here.


e.a.f. said...

I am not surprised the RCMP think that the list is not credible. If the RCMP said they thought the list was credible then they would be admitting there is a problem and once you have done that, you have to fix it. They aren't going to do that.

We have seen how the RCMP has treated women who were RCMP officers. I don't expect them to treat other citizens in this country any differently. What we need to do is change the RCMP or demand they be removed from areas where there are women who have disappeared, murdered, beaten, etc.

Sixth Estate said...

If only there was some ambiguous Statistics Canada figure that captured these missing women, we could get Maurice Vellacott to write a letter requesting an investigation.

Pseudz said...

Our democracy appears to be in grave trouble . . . the flies (Jason Kenney, I'm looking at you) have conquered the fly-paper. People-first, not party-first choices must lead or we're fucked. Lives are being lost. It's now or never.

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