The official tally of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada has hit nearly 1,200—and it’s not Native groups giving this number, it’s the country’s own police force.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on Thursday May 1 confirmed to reporters that its own data search had yielded 1,186 cases of indigenous women—1,026 who had been murdered and 160 of whom are missing—over the past 30 years. This dwarfed the previous high number of 824 determined by a researcher in Ottawa earlier this year, as the Winnipeg Free Press reported in January. Even that number was higher than figures compiled by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which had documented 582 cases.
The latest revelation came after the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) learned on April 30 that “more than 1,000” women had been documented as missing or murdered. The RCMP would “not confirm or deny” that number, APTN reported.
On May 1, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulsen revealed the exact number to reporters after testifying before a Parliamentary committee, APTN said. The RCMP will release the full data within a month, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told the committee, according to APTN.
Reaction has been swift and outraged, starting with the official Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
“The Ottawa area has about a million inhabitants,” said NDP leader Tom Mulcair, according to APTN. “Imagine if a thousand women had been murdered or missing in Ottawa. Do you think we’d have to beg for an inquiry?”
The revelations sparked renewed calls for a national inquiry into the issue, which the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said it would not do.
Blaney told Parliament that an inquiry would not serve as much purpose as the $25 million that has been allocated for the issue in the Conservative government’s federal budget for 2014, the Canadian Press reported.
In all, aboriginal women are three times more likely to become the target of violence than non-aboriginal women, according to government data reported by the Star in January. Several high-profile cases over the years have brought attention to the matter. Last July the body of 25-year-old Bella Laboucan-McLean, the sister of environmental and indigenous-rights activist Melina Laboucan-Massimo, was found at the foot of a high-rise in Toronto. Although six people were inside the 31st-floor condo that she fell from, her death remains unsolved.
Earlier this year the case of murdered Inuit student Loretta Saunders broke hearts across the country but especially in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she had been researching the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women for her thesis at Saint Mary’s University.
In her research, which her advisor Darryl Leroux called brilliant, the pregnant 26-year-old wrote about the ongoing effects of colonialism on the perception and treatment of indigenous women.
“Despite feeling hesitant at times, I refuse to remain quiet, feel ashamed and embarrassed about the struggles and hardships that were strategically developed and designed for me through colonial practices and policies as well as societal norms that emerged as part of the colonizers plan to assimilate and eliminate Indigenous peoples,” Saunders wrote in her thesis proposal, released by Leroux and her sister. “I refuse to allow my past dictate my future and define who I am.”