New Report on Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada

Photographs of missing or murdered women from British Columbia are displayed during a Sisters in Spirit vigil to honor the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Vancouver, B.C., in 2009.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has, through their Sisters in Spirit initiative, gathered information and released a report on Aboriginal women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada over the past generation (pdf). They found a total of 582 cases. Of those, 393 died as a result of murder or negligence. And 115 remain missing.

Most of these women’s cases were from the past 10 years. NWAC believes that there were more missing or murdered Aboriginal women,whose cases they were unable to identify. Each of those 582 was a person, a person who was loved, a person who too frequently had a life cut much too short.

I’m just going to go ahead and quote a large portion of the key findings, rather than doing a comparably inferior summary myself. All emphasis is from the original document:

There are a disproportionately high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Between 2000 and 2008, 153 cases of murder have been identified in NWAC’s Sisters In Spirit database. These women represent approximately ten per cent of the total number of female homicides in Canada despite the fact that Aboriginal women make up only three per cent of the total female population in Canada. The majority of women and girls in NWAC’s database were murdered, while 115 women and girls are still missing.

The majority of disappearances and deaths of Aboriginal women and girls occurred in the western provinces of Canada. Over two thirds of the cases were in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

A great majority of the women were young. More than half of the women and girls were under the age of 31. Measures designed to increase safety must take into account the needs of young Aboriginal women and girls.

Many of the women were mothers. Of the cases where this information is known, 88 per cent of missing and murdered women and girls left behind children and grandchildren. These children must have access to culturally appropriate supports to deal with this trauma.

Aboriginal women and girls are as likely to be killed by an acquaintance or stranger as they are by an intimate partner. Almost 17 per cent of those charged were strangers. Aboriginal women and girls are more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Aboriginal women.

Nearly half of murder cases remain unsolved. Nationally, 53 per cent of murder cases have been cleared by charges of homicide, while no charges have been laid in forty per cent of cases. However, there are differences in clearance rates by province. The clearance rate for murdered women and girls ranges from a low 42 per cent in Alberta to 93 per cent in Nunavut.

The majority of cases occurred in urban areas. 70 per cent of women and girls disappeared from an urban area, and 60 per cent were murdered in an urban area. But resources are also needed to respond to the needs of families in rural and on-reserve communities.

All of this information is vital to knowing where resources are needed and which women are most vulnerable. Additionally, the report includes a short section on how Aboriginal women who do sex work are especially and disproportionately impacted. And while there is unfortunately no specific examination of their cases, I was pleasantly surprised to see it explicitly noted that Aboriginal trans* women are included in the number of missing and murdered women and girls.

While women who have gone missing or been murdered are the focus of this report, also included is information about other forms of violence against Aboriginal women, including dramatically disproportionate rates of sexual violence and intimate partner violence.

According to the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS), Aboriginal women 15 and older are three and a half times more likely to experience violence (defined as physical and sexual assault and robbery) than non-Aboriginal women (Statistics Canada 2006b, 5). Statistics concerning family violence (which represent most of the available data) are particularly alarming.1 Statistics Canada reports that rates of spousal assault (physical or sexual assault and threats of violence) against Aboriginal women are more than three times higher than non- Aboriginal women (Statistics Canada 2006a, 64). And, nearly one quarter of Aboriginal women experienced some form of spousal violence in the five years preceding the 2004 GSS (Statistics Canada 2006b, 6).

Aboriginal women also report experiencing more severe and potentially life-threatening forms of family violence, such as being beaten or choked, having had a gun or knife used against them, or being sexually assaulted (54% of Aboriginal women versus 37% of non-Aboriginal women) (Statistics Canada 2006a, 65). 44% reported “fearing for their lives,” compared with 33% of non- Aboriginal women and 27% of Aboriginal women reported experiencing 10 or more assaults by the same offender (as opposed to 18% of non-Aboriginal women) (ibid., 66).

The report also discusses how colonialism has had an impact on violence against women, primarily from the perspective of women and girls who are victimized, but also in terms of those Aboriginal men who perpetrate violence. Understanding and addressing colonialism and its strong continued impact on Aboriginal communities, including with regards to poverty, addiction, childhood abuse, and learned gender roles, is integral to ending violence against Aboriginal women and girls. It’s not enough to simply interrogate patriarchal violence if racist and colonialist state violence is not also combated in a serious way. Gendered violence against Aboriginal women and girls simply cannot and will not cease until and unless systematic violence against all Aboriginal people does.

For more information on all of the issues raised here and much more, be sure to check out the full report.

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