BY CRAIG BENJAMIN AND JACKIE HANSEN
Indigenous women and girls in Canada are roughly 7 times more likely to be targeted by serial predators. This is according to an article in the published this week in the Globe and Mail.
Based on the Globe’s own database of both convictions and ongoing police investigations, journalists Kathryn Blaze Baum and Matthew McClearn identified 18 confirmed cases where men responsible for multiple murders – “serial killers” – were convicted of the murders of Indigenous women and girls. By also including unresolved cases where a serial killer is suspected, the number rises to 77.
This represents less than 10 percent of established cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. We must never lose sight, however, of the fact that each murder represents an individual tragedy, leaving behind families and communities to grieve for the loved ones who have been stolen from them. And whether the number of Indigenous women and girls targeted by serial killers is 18 or 77 — or an even higher number — these crimes should provoke shock, outrage, and a demand for action.
The sad fact, however, is that for at least part of the public and media, such shock and outrage is reserved for crimes when the victims are non-Indigenous. In 2001, journalist Warren Goulding published a book called Just Another Indian: A Serial Killer and Canada’s Indifference that examines a series of murders of Indigenous women in Saskatoon that went largely ignored in the press. About this, Goulding has said, “It’s all part of the indifference to the lives of Aboriginal people. They don’t seem to matters as much as white people.”
How much have things changed? In the last two decades, a powerful movement led by Indigenous women hasmade the violence faced by Indigenous women and girls such an inescapable fact of Canadian political life that it factored into the recent federal election. The newly elected federal government made a national inquiry a clear priority.
This past weekend, in an editorial questioning the need for such an inquiry, the National Post made the categorical claim, “Whatever is happening here, it is not white serial killers travelling to remote aboriginal communities to hunt vulnerable women.”
Sadly, the National Post is not alone in its selective approach to the violence facing Indigenous women and girls.
Until recently, there were no official national statistics on the numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. The RCMP issued the first such report only in 2014. There are currently no plans for regular ongoing reporting of such statistics.
Although the RCMP updated their report earlier this year, they only included cases within their jurisdiction, leaving out the majority of cases across the country. Now they have abandoned such reporting entirely. This week, when Statistics Canada publishes its annual national homicide index, it will break down crimes by Indigenous identity for the first time. But the report will not include missing persons. So far as we know there are no plans for any agency to publish updated figures on missing Indigenous women and girls.
There is also been no reporting to date of the numbers of Indigenous women and girls among unresolved suspicious deaths.
And as the Globe and Mail reported in its article on serial killings, the RCMP reports released in 2014 and 2015 looked at many factors in the lives of both victims and perpetrators, but did not include any analysis of how often a single perpetrator or group of perpetrators is responsible for more than one murder.
Again, it seems clear that the majority of murders of Indigenous women and girls are not committed by “serial killers”. But all their lives matter. And the disproportionate numbers of Indigenous women and girls who are targeted by serial predators needs to be understood and addressed, not ignored.
Part of the role of a national inquiry is to get beyond the biases and assumptions that have led police, the media, the public and lawmakers to ignore the reality of the pervasive, horrendous violence facing Indigenous women and girls, in all its complexity.
One of the many things that we would hope that a thorough, independent and credible public inquiry could accomplish is to push past the Hollywood-fed mythology that surrounds the term “serial killer.” Instead of assuming that these are men acting alone, beyond the fringe of society, we hope that an inquiry will ask the question of how many of these men had accomplices, whether others were complicit by helping cover up the crime, and what led them to feel they could get away with targetting Indigenous women and girls in the first place. These questions, and many others, are important because they go to the crucial point of preventing such crimes in the future and helping ensure that all women and girls can live in safety.