After the October 19, 2015 federal election in Canada my facebook newsfeed has been buzzing with the "great news" that in the 2015 federal election people across Canada elected an all-time record high number of 10 indigenous MPs (Members of Parliament) and also a record-breaking 88 women. But all of the comments, memes and victory rants I have read failed to look at a few important points.
Most importantly, in the days after the election on October 22, 2015, an explosive episode of Radio-Canada’s show Enquête was aired. The episode, "Abus de la SQ: les femmes brisent le silence." (Abuse by the SQ [police]: Women break the silence) featured a group of native women in Val-d’Or, Quebec making strong accusations against the police for abuse of power and sexual exploitation. This story, which has taken over national headlines, was a sharp reminder that despite any changes in Canada’s parliament, in everyday life Indigenous women across Canada are still forced look at the ever growing number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and ask themselves and the public #AmINext?
Canada’s 2015 election: A victory for Women and Indigenous people?
First, I have to take issues with the numbers presented and ask if in the year 2015 we can really call the election of 10 Aboriginal people and 88 women to parliament a victory? Although technically yes the numbers are “record breaking,” they are still so low!
In the previous parliament Aboriginal MPs made up 7 out of 308 seats, it is true that now there are 10 Indigenous MPs. But what everyone is not talking about is the fact that they just added 30 new seats to Canada’s parliament, which means Aboriginal MPs went from 7/308 seats to 10/338 seats, that’s a whopping increase of 0.7% (from 2.2% to 2.9% of parliament). These numbers mean Indigenous people continue to be underrepresented, as according to a 2011 StatsCan (Statistics Canada) Household survey, Aboriginal people represent 4.3% of the Canadian population.
The gains in terms of women’s representation in parliament in Canada are similarly deceiving. In 2011, Canada had 77 women in 308 parliamentary seats. Today it has 88 women in 338 seats. This totals a miraculous increase of 1% from 25% to 26% of seats in Canada’s House of Commons – despite the fact that women are 51% of Canada’s population! Not to mention that Canada’s percentage of women in parliament means that when compared to parliaments throughout the world we are around 47th place, right below France and Kazakhstan which both have parliaments which are 26.2% women.
But this is not a numbers game. The bigger question is that when these women and Indigenous Members of Parliament take their seats, will they represent and fight for the issues important to the communities they represent? Three previous examples point to the answer being ‘probably not’. First, Bev Oda a female MP who helped slashed the funding for Canada’s Status of Women agency. Second, Peter Penashue, an Innu MP who spoke on a few occasions disagreeing with having a national enquiry to investigate murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada. Finally, Rob Clarke, a Cree MP who worked to passed the “Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act” without any formal consultation with Indigenous communities across Canada. It is true the Indian Act is unpopular, but previous moves to completely eradicate the Indian Act, such as Pierre Trudeau’s failed “White Paper”, have been even more unpopular that the Indian Act itself.
How are Indigenous woman doing in Canada?
The statistics from Statistics Canada basically speak for themselves. Outlining some of the gross inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in Canada. According to Statistics Canada:
- In 2001, the estimated life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal females was 76.8 years, over five years less than their non-Aboriginal counterparts who could expect to live, on average, just over 82 years.
- In 2001, Inuit women had a life expectancy of only 71.7 years, more than 10 years less than their non-Aboriginal counterparts!
- Unemployment rates for Aboriginal women were twice as high as those of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. In 2006, 13.5% of Aboriginal women were unemployed, compared with a rate of 6.4% for non-Aboriginal women.
- In 2006, 35% of Aboriginal women aged 25 and over had not graduated from high school, whereas the figure was 20% among non-Aboriginal women.
- In 2006, 9% of Aboriginal women aged 25 and over had a university degree, compared with 20% of their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
These statistics are not to prove that Indigenous women in Canada are less capable or less motivated, but instead to understand that Indigenous women are not starting from equal footing as non-Indigenous women in Canada. That police forces and politicians are well aware of these statistics, and are doing very little to eradicate these injustices for the next generation. In fact, in many ways they are the reason advances have been so difficult to make.
Indigenous women fight back – the case against the SQ in Quebec
On October 22, 2015 an explosive televised investigation was made public on the Radio-Canada show Enquête. Originally the show went to Val-d’Or, Quebec to investigate if police were really doing all they could to solve the case of a single missing Indigenous woman, Sindy Ruperthouse. Sindy is a 44 year old Algonquin woman missing from the Val-d’Or region since the spring of 2014. However, once in Val-d’Or the journalist began meeting with members of the community and uncovered that many local Indigenous women were being abused by local police officers. Most importantly, the women were tired of living in fear and ready to share their story with the world.
Many of the Indigenous women in the episode of Enquête explain that it was a kind of open secret in the community that Indigenous women were often picked up at bars for public drunkenness and driven by cops out of town. They were then forced to walk back to town to ‘sober up’. This is not only an illegal, racist and sexist practice, but also very dangerous as women were left in the cold alone on dark unlit roads forced to walk home, which was often several kilometers away. A lesser known secret that many of these women finally felt supported enough to share is that while out on these dark roads these on-duty police officers would often pay or force these women to perform sexual acts.
On October 23, the day after the show aired, the SQ announced it had suspended eight officers for abuse of power and assault, the 9th officer accused is deceased. While officials in Quebec had known about these allegations since May 2015, the SQ had been in charge of investigating itself. On October 23, the Quebec government responded to the outrage created by the program by calling in an external police force to investigate (the Montreal Police).
The Indigenous women in Val-d’Or allowed Enquête to document their stories to try to hold the police to account and make the future in Val-d’Or and across Canada safer for their friends, mothers, sisters, daughters and grand-daughters. It is up to the rest of Canada to support these women and make sure that the officers and their bosses are held to account. If we claim that we believe in equality and justice we cannot wait, we have to speak now, because the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women is not static, it is rising.
For anyone trying to make the case that this is a problem of the corrupt SQ, Amnesty International Canada published an article reminding everyone that this is no isolated incident. Unfortunately, this is history repeating itself. They write, "Some details of the allegations in Quebec mirror a well-documented pattern of police abuse in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan that, even before it came to light publicly, was known among police officers as Starlight Tours. In 2001, two Saskatoon police officers were convicted of “unlawful confinement” for picking up an Indigenous man named Darrel Night and dropping him off on the edge of town in sub-zero weather." Of course, this shows that police across Canada have been using similar illegal tactics, have been convicted for using these illegal tactics, and yet the police of the SQ still somehow got away with their actions for years.
Join the Campaign for Justice & Demand an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada
According to a CBC article from October 2014, "the RCMP released a report that found nearly 1,200 cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada since 1980. While aboriginal women make up only 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, the study said, they account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women." For decades family members of the missing and murdered indigenous women, their friends and allies have been protesting and demanding that their cases be taken seriously. In the past few years the most common demand has been for a public inquiry to understand how the cases of these women have been systemically ignored and uninvestigated.
Many Indigenous groups and organizations across Canada have been fighting for their Inquiry, which the previous Conservative government refused. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister-Elect has promised an inquiry.
Amnesty International has outlined some points about what an inquiry should look like, writing, “As the accounts from Val d’Or illustrate, such an inquiry must be comprehensive, focusing on the all the forms that violence against Indigenous women takes and the discrimination and marginalization that put Indigenous women at risk. The inquiry must be well-resourced. It must be independent. And it must be designed and guided by Indigenous women, family members of the missed and murdered, Indigenous communities, and leadership." I believe these are solid demands, especially that the shape of the inquiry must be guided by Indigenous communities, and especially Indigenous women themselves. They know more about the open secrets in their own communities that need to be brought to light for them to see justice and a better future.
Of course, the same goes for the investigation in Val-d’Or, there are no independent policing forces. They all have skeletons in their closets and have either ignored the plight of Indigenous people or in many cases actively participated in the assaults and abuses against Indigenous people.
We need to support the women of Val-d’Or and their community in the courageous stand they have taken against injustice. We need to make sure that whatever the outcome of an investigation that the media keeps the spotlight on these women and the community to make them feel protected and safe from the police.
Discussions and debates on these issues are not only happening in the media. There are also informal conversation on social media such as twitter. Hashtags such as #AmINext? #NoMoreStolenSisters #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) #MMAW (Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women) are important to follow for this much needed discussion. Finally join Indigenous people across Canada on the streets, there are consistent actions happening across Canada to demand an inquiry and justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Back to Article Listing