Political apathy makes native women targets: Amnesty
- Political apathy makes native women targets: Amnesty
1 hour, 57 minutes ago
By Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The federal government's effort to stop violence against native women represents "a shocking failure" to stem an epidemic of murder and disappearance, says Amnesty International.
Ottawa must get to the heart of why more than 520 native women have vanished or been killed over the last four decades, the human rights watchdog said Wednesday in a new report, "No More Stolen Sisters."
"The positive measures taken in a number of communities and jurisdictions across the country highlight the shocking failure of the federal government to ensure an effective national response," said secretary general Alex Neve.
"Words of concern have not been met with real action."
Amnesty's damning report is just the latest blunt call for Ottawa to step up.
The number of yearly vigils demanding action is soaring with 70 rallies planned in 68 cities next month, says the Native Women's Association of Canada. Opposition Liberals are pressing for a national investigation. And the United Nations has specifically asked Ottawa to look into why aboriginal women are targeted, often with impunity.
The Native Women's Association released a report last spring on a database it compiled over the last five years as part of its Sisters in Spirit project.
The numbers are startling. At least 520 aboriginal women, most of them under 30, have been killed or have vanished since 1970 across the country.
Sixty-seven per cent of the total - 348 women - were murdered and almost one quarter are still missing, many of them under the age of 18. No one had been charged in 150 confirmed homicides.
Beverley Jacobs, past president of the association, speculated that trafficking in the global sex trade could be a factor. But she stressed that the research project lacked the resources and scope to take on an international investigation.
Liberal opposition critics say the Harper government's relative silence on the issue is odd given its tough-on-crime stance.
Ellen Gabriel, president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, lambasted Ottawa's "mediocre efforts."
Racism is very much a factor, she said, citing the comparative lack of media, police and political attention when native women vanish.
"We're still considered the lowest of the low in Canadian society - and that has to stop. Let's make society safe for our young, Indigenous women."
The Amnesty report says federal cash for studies and sensitivity training for police has not stopped the attacks. In 2005, the former Liberal government committed $5 million over five years to the Sisters in Spirit research project - half of what was requested.
It is unclear whether the Harper government will extend those funds.
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said talks on renewing that commitment will start "soon."
"The question of missing and murdered aboriginal women warrants co-ordinated attention from all levels of government," said Pamela Stephens in an emailed statement.
"The RCMP has long been working closely with aboriginal communities to strengthen mutual communication, and this government will be looking to the larger community for input and perspective to ensure that all aspects of these cases are explored."
Federal and provincial justice officials are also studying how cases involving serial killers who prey on vulnerable women are handled, she said.
Gabriel and other critics say Ottawa has not taken up repeated offers to work with native women's groups on a national strategy.
Amnesty is calling for a country-wide effort to co-ordinate and standardize police investigations, and to improve victim services.
It blames abuse, poverty, addiction and discrimination for the fact that native women are violently attacked at more than three times the rate of non-native women.
Most of the 520 murders or disappearances cited by the Sisters in Spirit project are based in the West where aboriginal populations are highest: 137 in British Columbia, 85 in Alberta, 71 in Manitoba, 59 in Saskatchewan, 59 in Ontario and 17 in Quebec. The rest are based in the Atlantic provinces, the territories or are still being researched.
Police task forces have so far been set up in British Columbia, Alberta and most recently Manitoba where there is growing outrage over the sheer number of unsolved cases .
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