New RCMP violence report highlights need to hold government and police accountable for failing Indigenous women and girls
In a report released today, the RCMP provided further substantiation to its conclusion, made public earlier this month, that 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980-2012, a homicide rate at least four times higher than that faced by all other women.
The report also identifies 164 unresolved cases of Indigenous women and girls who have been missing for 30 days or longer.
While Amnesty International welcomes the efforts made by the RCMP to research and make public these statistics, we are deeply concerned by the fact that the national police service had not previously sought to clarify the extent of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls.
“As the RCMP report acknowledges, accurate and comprehensive information on the rates of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls is essential to developing effective prevention strategies,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “Why then has this information never been researched and made available before, despite the many, many years of Indigenous women demanding action to address the threats that they face? For that matter, why have the RCMP not previously acknowledged the gaps in their own knowledge of this critical issue of public safety?”
While the RCMP has characterized the new report as the “most comprehensive data that has ever been assembled by the Canadian policing community on missing and murdered Aboriginal women”, the new report in fact marks the first time that police in Canada have ever attempted to identify the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls over time and across all jurisdictions.
Critically, even these numbers may be incomplete and underestimate the true extent of the violence faced by Indigenous women and girls because of inconsistencies and inaccuracies in police recording of Indigenous identity.
Indigenous women’s organizations have long asserted that First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls face much higher rates of violence, including murder and disappearance, than all other women in Canada. Until now, however, there have been no national police statistics breaking down homicides and missing persons cases by Indigenous identity.
“Governments have a fundamental responsibility to take every reasonable effort to stop violence against women,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s Francophone Branch. “Recording and making public accurate information on the levels and patterns of violence facing at risk populations is the one of most basic possible preventative measures. The fact that this has never been done before in Canada implies a callous disregard for the lives of Indigenous women and girls and a violation of their fundamental human rights.”
The RCMP report leaves unanswered a number of important questions.
• As the report acknowledges, police practices are inconsistent in establishing whether or not the victims of crime are Indigenous. The report acknowledges that the reported numbers of unresolved cases of missing Indigenous women and girls may not be accurate for this reason. Among homicides, the RCMP claims to have successfully resolved the question of Indigenous identity in almost all the cases where this identity was previously recorded as unknown. However, there is still considerable potential that some Indigenous victims have been mistakenly identified as non-Indigenous.
• The RCMP report only includes cases where the investigating police force has concluded that a homicide has occurred. Amnesty’s own research has raised concerns that deaths of Indigenous women and girls are not always fully and properly investigated and that as a result some murders of Indigenous women and girls may have been wrongly classified as accidental deaths.
• The RCMP report does not distinguish among First Nations, Inuit and Metis women and girls or provide any analysis of differences in the levels and nature of violence that they face.
Amnesty International welcomes the statement in the report that all RCMP detachments “have been directed to review all outstanding cases within their areas of responsi¬bility to ensure all investigative avenues have been explored; and, ensure units responsible for missing and murdered cases are resourced sufficiently.” We continue to stress, however, the need for a more comprehensive response.
Amnesty International has long stood alongside Indigenous women’s organizations in urging the federal government to institute a comprehensive and coordinated national action plan to end violence against women, including a national inquiry as a key tool to ensure public accountability.
“The fact that this information is only just now being made available to other police services and to the public is one more reason why we need an effective national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women,” said Alex Neve.
“Indigenous families and all Canadians deserve answers,” said Béatrice Vaugrante. “But most of all, First Nations, Inuit and Métis women deserve concrete, effective action based on accurate information, a genuine understanding of the issues, and a sincere commitment to achieve change.”
For further information, please contact Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332 firstname.lastname@example.org