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Aboriginal women suffer disproportionately from violence: RCMP

Sharon Armstrong of Ottawa takes part in a vigil on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 5, 2014, for Loretta Saunders and to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Aboriginal women suffer from much greater levels of violence than other women in Canada, leaving them more vulnerable to murder and brutality at the hands of their spouses, family members and acquaintances, an RCMP report has found.

For the first time, a series of numbers and statistics over three decades have been produced to illustrate the extent to which aboriginal women suffer disproportionately from violence in Canada. The contrast with the situation of other women in the country is stark, as aboriginal women are not benefiting from a long-term decrease in homicide numbers.

Thirty years ago, in the mid-1980s, 8 per cent of the female victims of murder in Canada were aboriginal; now it's 23 per cent.

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Over all, the RCMP said 1,017 aboriginal women were murdered from 1980 to 2012, while another 164 of them had gone missing. Aboriginals represent 4.3 per cent of Canada's population, but aboriginal women represented 16 per cent of all female victims of homicide in Canada, and 11 per cent of missing women.

The new figures, using data from police forces across Canada, fuelled calls for a public inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women, but also for greater prevention among some of the most vulnerable members of society.

"We are demanding immediate action based on these concrete facts and numbers so that not one more woman or girl is victimized and that no family member has to spend another day without answers," said Cameron Alexis, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Alberta.

The RCMP will dedicate further resources to probing unsolved cases, but also use the data to better target its crime prevention.

"We never lose sight of the fact that each and every statistic, each and every number, is an aboriginal woman, an aboriginal girl, somebody's mother, somebody's sister, somebody's daughter and somebody's loved one," said RCMP deputy commissioner Janice Armstrong.

"A lot of the vulnerability factors that were pointed out are symptoms of much greater problems," she added.

Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said she hopes the RCMP report will lead to a public inquiry, but also a national action plan, to deal with the issue of violence among aboriginal women.

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"We have seen that despite all of the campaigns over the years against violence, the zero-tolerance campaigns, the violence is always there," she said in an interview.

Still, the government is refusing to launch a public inquiry, stating it is time to take action to bring down crime rates rather than further study the matter.

"For too long, the voices of victims have too often been ignored, while the system has over-emphasized those of the criminals," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement. "We must continue to take concrete action now, not just continue to study the issue."

According to the report, a third of aboriginal victims of murder (32 per cent) died after a physical beating. The rate of physical beatings leading to murder was nearly twice that among non-aboriginal women (17 per cent).

Over all, women were most frequently killed by their spouses, but aboriginal women face greater threats among other members of their immediate circle. For non-aboriginal women, the killer in 41 per cent of the cases was their spouse. The number was lower among aboriginal women (29 per cent), but they were much more likely to die at the hands of an acquaintance (30 per cent) than non-aboriginal women (19 per cent).

As the RCMP unveiled its report, Superintendent Tyler Bates said he hopes the numbers will fall over time, stating the current situation is unacceptable.

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"I don't want to be looking at 1,181 [cases] 33 years from now. I think this is a reality that we can all collectively invest ourselves in, and work to change that sad reality," he said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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