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No More Stolen Sisters

    By Jackie Hansen, Major Campaigns and Women’s Rights Campaigner, Amnesty International Canada

    On Tuesday morning Bridget Tolley did what no mother wants to do—search for her missing daughter. Laura Spence and her friend Nicole Whiteduck were last seen on Sunday morning in Kitigan Zibi, a community north of Ottawa.

    Tolley is the co-founder of the grassroots organization Families of Sisters in Spirit—one of Amnesty International’s key partners in the Stolen Sisters campaign to end violence against Indigenous women in Canada. She provides support to Indigenous families across Canada whose daughters, sisters, mothers, and aunties have gone missing or been murdered. And while she understands very well the pain of losing a loved one—her mother was killed in 2001 by a police cruiser—until this week she had not experienced what many of the families she works with have gone through when a loved one vanishes.

    All governments have a responsibility to do everything in their power to prevent violence against women. This includes provincial and territorial governments as well as municipalities. It also includes Indigenous governments and institutions such as Band Councils. All have a shared responsibility to be part of the solution to ending violence against Indigenous women and girls.

    However, the federal government has a particular responsibility to help ensure the safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls.

    Here are some of the reasons why:

    A report released by the RCMP earlier this year marks the first time that police in Canada have attempted, at the national level, to identify how many First Nations, Inuit or Métis women and girls have been murdered or have gone missing.

    According to the report, 1,017 women and girls identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012—a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada.

    In addition, the report states that as of November 2013, at least 105 Indigenous women and girls remained missing under suspicious circumstances or for undetermined reasons.

    These appalling statistics are consistent with previous estimates from sources such as Statistics Canada that have long pointed to a greatly disproportionate level of violence against that First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls. The latest numbers also underline what Indigenous women and advocacy organizations have long been saying–that this violence requires a specific and concerted response from police and all levels of society.

    The scale and severity of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls requires a corresponding commitment by government to ensuring their safety. Amnesty International has long called for a comprehensive, coordinated national plan of action to address gaps in current policies, programs and services; involve Indigenous women’s organizations in identifying the necessary solutions; and ensure accountability in their delivery.

      By Jacqueline Hansen, Amnesty International's Major Campaigns and Women's Human Rights Campaigner.

    Holly Jarrett is the grassroots activist behind the “Am I Next?” viral social media campaign. Originally from Labrador and now based in Ontario, she has worked with national Aboriginal organizations, including Inuit organizations, since 1991, and has been a grassroots organizer since 1998. Holly’s cousin, Loretta Saunders, was murdered in Halifax earlier this year. Follow the Am I Next? campaign on Facebook. 

      By Jacqueline Hansen, Amnesty International's Major Campaigns and Women's Human Rights Campaigner.

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