Canadian leaders challenge prime minister position on inquiry on murdered and missing Aboriginal women


Stupidity outbreak mars Harper's visit

EDITORIAL - John Thompson - August 22, 2014

What a relief. Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Whitehorse yesterday and shared with the territory a fresh insight: the plight of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada is not, in fact, a "sociological phenomenon." Rather, the root of the problem is that we simply haven't locked enough people away in prison.

"We should view it as crime," Harper said. "It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."

Well, that makes things much tidier, doesn't it?

No need to fret over the toxic brew that contributes to the many troubles faced by Canada's aboriginal communities: high unemployment, rife substance abuse, overcrowded housing, low education levels, not to mention the terrible traumas inflicted during residential schools that continue to be passed from one generation to the next, and so forth.

You would think that if the social conditions of aboriginal women had any bearing on their well-being, it would be incumbent upon Canadian governments to actually improve the situation. Thankfully, it's only a matter of hunting down those bloody criminals.

What a remarkably stupid position for the prime minister to take. These comments were offered as Harper's rationale as to why a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is, in his view, not needed. Marian Horne, president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women's Council, has rightfully deplored this take.

She's far from alone. Harper's opposition to an inquest stands in contrast to all other federal parties, save his own, and all Yukon parties. Heck, even Harper's MP for the Yukon, Ryan Leef, has publicly called for an inquiry, in a rare case of him veering from the party line.

Here's the problem. If "sociological phenomenon" is just a highfalutin way of referring to the social and economic circumstances we find ourselves in, then these are the forces that help drive crime. If you happen to be young, poor, uneducated, struggle with addictions and live in overcrowded housing, your odds of being victimized are far higher than the average Canadian. These same forces also make it more likely that you will be caught committing violent crimes. And, of course, many aboriginal Canadians tend to find themselves in precisely these circumstances.

After all, what is the countervailing theory? More strident critics would say that old-fashioned racism among authorities must play a big role, but surely that's not Harper's take.

Instead, it seems to be that criminals are bad people, and bad people belong in jail. That view may make sense if we're focused on the deeds of a serial killer like Robert Picton. But the reality is that much violence faced by aboriginal women is inflicted by spouses or other people they know. Often enough, these are people also stuck in the same quagmire of aboriginal social dysfunction.

What's more, it's not as if the lock-'em-up approach hasn't already been tried. Currently, one-quarter of federal inmates are already aboriginal, compared to aboriginal people comprising just four per cent of Canada's population. The rehabilitative impact, to date, has been pretty terrible. Yet, in Harper's world, it seems we just aren't locking up enough people, for long enough.

This, of course, fits into Harper's broader tough-on-crime schtick, which appeals to the Conservative base but has little to do with empirical studies of crime. During a speech to the faithful in Whitehorse, Harper bragged about Canada's declining crime rate - failing to bother noting that the decline began well before the Conservatives took office.

Harper, naturally enough, also failed to acknowledge that real-world studies have found that longer sentences have little impact on preventing future crimes, while certain rehabilitative measures have had a measurable impact. That would sort of undermine a big plank of his platform. Thankfully for him, the tough-on-crime crowd he panders to have never been much bothered by such finicky stuff as credible evidence.

Strangely enough, Harper's comments in the Yukon probably have the opposite effect intended. Previously, it was possible to think that a national inquiry wasn't needed, as such exercises, as Harper has himself noted, often become an excuse for foot-dragging. Wouldn't it be better to just roll up our sleeves and act instead?

Reasonable people at that point may have assumed that working to improve the material well-being of aboriginal Canadians would have to somehow play into this solution. Just how to go about untangling the knot of social pathologies that ensnare many aboriginal communities is, of course, no easy thing, which is why most Canadian politicians would just as soon ignore the whole mess. But is it really necessary to have a retired judge spend umpteen months touring the country and compiling horrific stories, when the material deprivations and social dysfunctions that underlie this dismal drama are already well understood?

Apparently, yes.


From the

What unites these slain native women? An inquiry might tell us


The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Aug. 22 2014

This month's toll: A 15-year-old-girl is pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg, her body wrapped in plastic; the remains of a woman are found near Kamloops, B.C., her skull in one place, her body in another; across the country, in Halifax, the murder trial over the death of a third woman is set to begin.

What unites these three cases is that the victims - Tina Fontaine, Samantha Paul and Loretta Saunders - were all aboriginal women. What else unites them, besides the abysmal circumstances of their deaths? What economic, cultural, historical or social factors? Anything? Nothing?

I'd like to know. Perhaps you would too. It might be useful information in preventing violence toward native women in this country, and adding to the 1,181 who have been killed or disappeared over the past 30 years, according to the RCMP. The United Nations would like to know why aboriginal women are more likely to be killed than the rest of the female population, and so would Human Rights Watch, the premiers of all the provinces, and not least the dead women's families. The only people who seem not to want to know are the ones running the country.

According to the Prime Minister, Tina Fontaine's death occurred in a vacuum, which would make it the only such event in human history. "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon," Stephen Harper said, yet again rejecting calls for an investigation into the deaths of indigenous women. "We should view it as crime."

This echoing of Margaret Thatcher's famous dictum ("there is no such thing as society") would be quaint, were there not actual corpses involved. There has already been enough "study" of the issue, the Prime Minister said, echoing Justice Minister Peter MacKay's words of a few days earlier. I imagine them saying "study" in the same tone the rest of us reserve for "Ebola." In other words, there are only individual crimes - no historical resonances, deep-rooted prejudices, systemic failures, structural cracks that swallow people whole. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

This government's fear of facts, study and research into any topic that might cast it in a poor light is well documented, and not worth repeating here. But where actual lives are at stake, this truculence beggars belief: It is only three-year-olds, and not national governments, who should hide in the dark with pillows over their heads hoping that the bad thing will go away if they just don't look. If they look, of course, they might just see something unpleasant that requires immediate attention, and a bit of courage.

On Feb. 13, the day police believe Inuit university student Loretta Saunders was killed in Halifax, the Native Women's Association of Canada presented 23,000 signatures to the House of Commons, calling for a national inquiry. Those names may as well have been written in invisible ink, for all the attention Mr. Harper gave them.

Does that sound cynical? I feel cynical at this moment. If hundreds of cattle farmers had gone missing, or if oil executives and Bay Street lawyers were being snatched from the streets, I bet we would have studies and recommendations coming out our ears. You wouldn't see the Peace Tower for the mountains of paper. Some lucky developer would be building a maximum-security prison to deal with the horrible wave of farmer/executive/lawyer violence. Dolefully voiced television commercials would warn of the danger to men in suits and Stetsons.

But these are aboriginal women, many of them poor and described, euphemistically, as "living a vulnerable lifestyle." You would think that the vulnerable would be more in need of the state's protection, not less, but perhaps I'm living in some utopian dream of Canada - the kind you see on TV, sometimes, advertising the country to foreign tourists.

There are plenty of activists who say a national inquiry is not the answer - that we have had enough talk, and what is needed is money-in-the-bank solutions like more funding for women's shelters, counselling and mental health. They say we could start by implementing the recommendations that arose from the Pickton inquiry into the murders of aboriginal women in B.C. They worry that an Ottawa-led inquiry would ignore native voices and end up a whitewash.

Ideally, though, one would lead to another: A comprehensive investigation might reveal unseen patterns, offer evidence why the murder rate is rising among aboriginal women and falling elsewhere, and provide factual evidence that what we have here is indeed a "sociological phenomenon." To suggest that we can have study or action, information or solutions, seems like a faulty equation. Surely one leads to the other?

An inquiry would be a way of honouring the women whose futures are lost. Ms. Saunders, 26, was a university student, working on a thesis about missing and murdered indigenous women. She was trying to gain knowledge, to piece together the fractured bits of our history and make sense of the picture it provided. Ms. Paul, 25, wanted to be a hairdresser, according to her aunt. I don't know what Tina Fontaine wanted to be; who has any clue, at 15? There's so much we don't know about any of them. And at this rate we aren't likely to find out.



Wynne: Harper's comments on missing and murdered aboriginal women 'outrageous'


Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. (Mark Blinch for The Globe and Mail)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is wrong in saying that police investigations, not a national inquiry, are the best way to deal with crimes involving missing and murdered aboriginal women, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Friday.

"For Stephen Harper to say that there's not a systemic aspect to this, I think is just - I think it's outrageous quite frankly," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

All the provinces and territories endorsed calls for a public inquiry when they gathered last year in Ontario for the annual Council of the Federation premiers' conference. They'll meet up again next week in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where they'll talk with aboriginal leaders.

The death of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl found wrapped in a bag and dumped in the Red River has prompted renewed calls for an inquiry. Tina Fontaine, whose body was discovered Sunday, had been in Winnipeg less than a month when she ran away from foster care. Police are treating it as a homicide.

But the federal Conservatives have firmly rejected an inquiry, saying they prefer to address the issue in other ways, such as through aboriginal justice programs and a national DNA missing person's index.

Most such cases are addressed and solved by the police, Harper said Thursday, adding it's important to keep in mind that these are crimes.

"We should not view this as sociological phenomenon," he said in Whitehorse.

"We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."

In May, the RCMP issued a detailed statistical breakdown of 1,181 cases since 1980. It said aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

"As the RCMP has said itself in its own study, the vast majority of these cases are addressed and are solved through police investigations, and we'll leave it in their hands," Harper said.

He's wrong and the premiers will continue to press for an inquiry, Wynne said.

Aboriginal communities face many systemic issues, she said. In Ontario, high-school graduation rates among aboriginal youth are as low as 40 per cent compared to 83 per cent among mainstream students.

Some communities in northern Ontario haven't had drinking water in years, an issue that will be raised at the premiers' conference, she said.

Ontario has done what is can to improve conditions, but constitutionally, they're the responsibility of the federal government, Wynne added. Ottawa doesn't want an inquiry because it would call into question all those societal issues.

"For whatever reason, Stephen Harper is choosing not to tackle those issues in a serious way," she said.

He seems to prefer dealing with provinces and territories separately rather than sitting down with all of them to design a national vision on issues like energy, infrastructure and internal trade, Wynne said.

"I think that's wrong. I think there should be a national discussion and that the prime minister should be part of it," she said.

"Right now, the national discussion happens at the table with Canada's premiers, as opposed to with the prime minister."

Last year, the provinces and territories banded together against the Conservatives when Ottawa tried to push changes to job training funding. The Tories were forced to come to the table and compromise in order to win their support.

Those conflicts wouldn't happen if Harper took a more collaborative approach, Wynne said.

"By making a decision as he has not to deal with us collectively, he runs the risk of more of those situations," she said. "It's a polarizing approach and I think it's counterproductive."


From the

Harper on wrong side of history in opposing aboriginal inquiry: Trudeau

The Canadian Press - August 23, 2014

MONCTON, N.B. - Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says the prime minister is on the wrong side of history in his opposition to launching an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Trudeau was in Moncton, N.B., today where he accused Stephen Harper of being out of touch with Canadians on the issue.

There have been renewed calls for an inquiry since the death of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old aboriginal girl found dead in Winnipeg.


Harper said earlier this week that Fontaine's death was a crime and should not be viewed as a "sociological phenomenon."

Trudeau says there is no question that her death was a crime, but Canada needs to determine what is behind the high number of native women who have disappeared or been murdered and an inquiry is the best way to do that.

Trudeau was campaigning alongside New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant for that province's election.



Harper rejects calls for aboriginal women inquiry



Last updated Thursday, Aug. 21 2014, 9:38 PM EDT

A woman places flowers at a vigil for 15 year old Tina Fontaine on the Alexander Docks along the Red river from which her body, in a bag, was recovered Sunday in Winnipeg Manitoba, August 19, 2014. (LYLE STAFFORD For The Globe and Mail)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is rebuffing calls for a national inquiry into Canada's murdered and missing aboriginal women in the wake of the death of a 15-year-old girl, saying the tragedy is first and foremost a crime - not part of a "sociological phenomenon" requiring further study.

Addressing reporters during his annual tour of the North, Mr. Harper called Tina Fontaine's death "terrible," but said such cases are a matter for law enforcement - a statement that provoked swift condemnation from aboriginal leaders.

"We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon," Mr. Harper said, noting the government has passed legislation aimed at protecting all Canadians. "We should view it as crime."

Tina's body was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River on Sunday, sparking calls for an inquiry from the Assembly of First Nations, Manitoba's Aboriginal Affairs Minister, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and the federal NDP.

Asked why Ottawa won't consider a probe, Mr. Harper said there has already been "very fulsome study" of the matter, an apparent reference to a recent RCMP report that found 1,181 aboriginal women had either been killed or gone missing between 1980 and 2012.

"I'm not going to comment on the police investigation," Mr. Harper said of Tina's death. "But as the RCMP has said itself in its own study, the vast majority of these cases are addressed and are solved through police investigations, and we'll leave it in their hands."

Niigaan Sinclair, a University of Winnipeg aboriginal studies professor who helped organize Tuesday's vigil in memory of Tina, said Mr. Harper's comments reveal an "ignorance" of the much deeper cultural factors at play.

"It is profoundly unfortunate that the Prime Minister doesn't understand the most important epidemic facing this country, which is missing and murdered aboriginal women," Prof. Sinclair said. "This is an issue that every Canadian is responsible for."

NWAC's executive director, Claudette Dumont-Smith, called Mr. Harper's remarks "insensitive" and "irresponsible," arguing he doesn't seem to be focused on ways to prevent such tragedies.

"Why are there so many aboriginal women that are murdered compared to other women?" she said. "Doesn't he think that racism and sexism and colonialism play a part in all that?"

Beyond calls for a national inquiry, Tina's death has also raised questions about the child welfare system. At the request of her aunt who raised her, the teen had been in the care of Manitoba's Child and Family Services for about a month before her death. Thelma Favel said she was looking for support after Tina ran away several times, but now says the system "failed" the girl.

"I reached out for help, and thought I was doing something good," said Ms. Favel, who cared for Tina and her sister for more than 10 years after their father became frail with cancer.

Tina's case is specifically lending fresh urgency to efforts to revamp a provincial law that requires the findings of investigations conducted by the children's advocate to remain confidential.

Manitoba's Office of the Children's Advocate is investigating the public services Tina received as part of an automatic review that occurs whenever a child in care dies.

However, the results of the advocate's review, including any recommendations aimed at preventing future incidents, must remain confidential under current provincial legislation. The advocate's report is provided only to the Minister of Family Services, the Ombudsman and the chief medical examiner.

"We absolutely think we should do more public reporting and we're hopeful that the government is going to change our legislation," said Ainsley Krone, a spokeswoman for the advocate.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross stopped short of saying she supports legislative change, noting the importance of balancing confidentiality concerns.

"We are investigating that possibility," she said, adding she hopes to provide an answer by the fall on whether the government will pursue new legislation.

Questions about Tina's involvement in the child welfare system come as the province is working to implement recommendations from the inquiry into the death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair, who was murdered by her mother and the woman's boyfriend in 2005 after prolonged abuse that was reported to CFS at least 13 times. Justice Ted Hughes made 62 recommendations, including several related to expanding the role of the children's advocate.



Harper Solicits Research to Blame First Nations for Murdered, Missing and Traded Indigenous Women



Canada's shameful colonial history as it relates to Indigenous peoples and women specifically is not well known by the public at large. The most horrific of Canada's abuses against Indigenous peoples are not taught in schools. Even public discussion around issues like genocide have been censored by successive federal governments, and most notably by Harper's Conservatives. Recently, the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights refused to use the term "genocide" to describe Canada's laws, policies and actions towards Indigenous peoples which led to millions of deaths. The reason?: because that term was not acceptable to the federal government and the museum is after all, a Crown corporation.

Aside from the fact that this museum will be used as a propaganda tool for Canada vis-à-vis the international community, Harper's Conservatives are also paying for targeted research to back up their propaganda as it relates to murdered, missing and traded Indigenous women. This is not the first time that Harper has paid for counter information and propaganda material as it relates to Indigenous peoples, and it likely won't be the last. However, this instance of soliciting targeted research to help the government blame Indigenous peoples for their own victimization and oppression is particularly reprehensible given the massive loss of life involved over time.

The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women was made very public by the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) several years ago through their dedicated research, community engagement and advocacy efforts. Even the United Nations took notice and starting commenting on Canada's obligation to address this serious issue. Yet, in typical Harper-Conservative style, once the issue became a hot topic in the media, they cut critical funding to NWAC's Sisters in Spirit program which was the heart of their research and advocacy into murdered and missing Indigenous women.

To further complicate the matter, any attempts for a national inquiry into the issue has been thwarted by the federal government, despite support for such an inquiry by the provinces and territories. One need only look at the fiasco of the Pickton Inquiry in British Columbia to understand how little governments in Canada value the lives of Indigenous women, their families and communities. The inquiry was headed by Wally Oppal, the same man who previously denied the claims of Indigenous women who were forcibly sterilized against their knowledge and consent. The inquiry seemed more interested in insulating the RCMP from investigation and prosecution than it was about hearing the stories of Indigenous women.

Now, the Canadian public has to deal with a new chapter to this story - the sale of Indigenous women into the sex trades. The CBC recently reported that current research shows that Indigenous women, girls and babies in Canada were taken onto US ships to be sold into the sex trade. While this is not new information for Indigenous peoples, it is something that Canada has refused to recognize in the past. The research also shows that Indigenous women are brought onto these boats never to be seen from again.

The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women has now expanded to murdered, missing and traded women. One might have expected a reaction from both the Canadian government and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Yet, the day after the story hit the news, the AFN was tweeting about local competitions and the federal government was essentially silent. I say essentially, because while all of this was taking place, the federal government put together a Request for Proposals on MERX (#275751) to solicit research to blame the families and communities of Indigenous women for being sold into the sex trade.

Instead of making a call for true academic research into the actual causes and conditions around Indigenous women, girls and babies being sold into the sex trade, the federal government solicited research to prove:

(1) the involvement of family members in their victimization;

(2) the level to which domestic violence is linked to the sale of Indigenous women into the sex trade; and

(3) even where they are investigating gang involvement, it is within the context of family involvement of the trade of Indigenous women.

The parameters of the research excludes looking into federal and/or provincial laws and policies towards Indigenous peoples; funding mechanisms which prejudice them and maintain them in the very poverty the research identifies; and negative societal attitudes formed due to government positions vis-à-vis Indigenous women like:

- rapes and abuse in residential schools;
- forced sterilizations;
- the theft of thousands of Indigenous children into foster care;
- the over-representation of Indigenous women in jails;
- and the many generations of Indigenous women losing their Indian status and membership and being kicked off reserves by federal law.

The research also leaves out a critical aspect of this research which is federal and provincial enforcement laws, policies and actions or lack thereof in regards to the reports of murdered, missing and traded Indigenous women, girls and babies. The epic failure of police to follow up on reports and do proper investigations related to these issues have led some experts to conclude that this could have prevented and addressed murdered, missing and traded Indigenous women. Of even greater concern are the allegations that have surfaced in the media in relation to RCMP members sexually assaulting Indigenous women and girls.

This MERX Request for Proposals is offensive and should be retracted and re-issued in a more academically-sound manner which looks to get at the full truth, versus a federally-approved pre-determined outcome.

It's time Canada opened up the books, and shed light on the real atrocities in this country so that we can all move forward and address them.