Bureaucracy Kills

The recent developments in the Robert Willie Pickton case have demonstrated the need for for an all out inquiry into why the police didn’t do their jobs and why over a dozen women lost their lives at the hands of the serial killer. Police could have caught Pickton years earlier and therefore prevented the deaths, an internal Vancouver police investigation concludes. The report has remained under wraps for more than a year because of court proceedings, publication bans, and now because the British Columbia government wants time to study the findings. The question is why do they need time, is it to cover their own failings? The report itself is over 400 pages long and while it places considerable blame on the Vancouver police the dept it also lays blame with the RCMP who could have arrested Pickton but chose not which resulted in the deaths of many more women.

The families have been calling for an inquiry for years but the BC govt has been reluctant to have one but now through public pressure from the Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Vancouver police, RCMP, B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and Amnesty International Canada. So the heat is on the BC govt to give the people what they want, will they do that is still up in the air. If this decision goes in favor of an inquiry it might lead to a national data base for missing and murdered native women across Canada which in my opinion is sorely needed to turn the tide against the abusers.

Right now the province of Manitoba is the only one of the provinces to create a task force to go through all the cases of missing women in that province. The task force is staffed with three RCMP officers, two RCMP analysts and four officers from the Winnipeg Police Service has come under fire for perceived inaction by the police task force set up a year ago to investigate cases like Claudette Osborne’s and to raise awareness about her and other unsolved cases. Claudette Osborne disappeared on July 24, 2008, and was last seen on McPhillips Street after leaving the Lincoln Hotel in Winnipeg. Friends and family recently completed a march from Norway House First Nation to Winnipeg to protest the lack of action.

Unfortunately there are many cases that reflect those of Osborne, too many cases have remained unsolved. In 1996 a Canadian government statistic revealed that Indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44, with status under the Indian Act, were five times more likely than all other women of the same age to die as the result of violence. Unfortunately the lack of information on violence against native women had hampered a lack of comprehensive reporting and statistical analysis.

Sisters in Spirit campaign was launched in March 2004, in response to alarmingly high levels of violence against Aboriginal women in Canada. In preparation for its March 2004-March 2005 campaign, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) issued a national call for information about women who have been lost to violence (or suspected violence). Based on this anecdotal evidence, NWAC estimates that approximately 500 Aboriginal women have gone missing in the last 20 years. This estimate is supported by 1996 government statistics showing that Aboriginal women with status were FIVE TIMES more likely to die as a result of violence than any other group of Canadian women.

The BC govt had said that they will render a decision sometime in the fall but I am not holding my breath. We have been asking for years for a public inquiry into missing women but our pleas seems to have fallen on deaf ears. In October 2008, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women called on Canada to “take the necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system” with respect to murdered or missing Indigenous women. The committee also called for restrictions on funding the advocacy activities of women’s groups to be lifted and for the establishment of an oversight mechanism for women prisoners.

Earlier this year the Harper Govt made available 10 million dollars to combat violence against native women but then cut funding to the Native healing foundation and the Montreal Native woman shelter both of which native women need to protect themselves against their abusers. The Harper govt has been famous for this taking one step forward and three steps back. His govt hasn’t done very much for First Nations in this country these include plans to construct a gas pipeline through lands in Alberta over which the Lubicon Cree continue to assert rights. The government continued to assert that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was not applicable in Canada because Canada had voted against its adoption.

I believe that only when there is a national task force and data base on the missing and murdered native women will we be able to stem the tide of violence. Only when our govt begins to respect first nations people will we ever be able to break down the stereotypes that keep first nations where they are!