A Path to Justice and Protection:
Addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women
By Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas
Welcome to our blog. We’re introducing it as a way for sharing our positions, plans, thoughts and ideas – and more importantly, as a means of keeping us connected with you, the reader. Dialogue is important and there’s much that needs to be discussed.
There’s quite a bit of activity here in the Senate of Canada that can benefit from constructive dialogue. And as recent events have reminded us, we live in a world where cold-blooded violence and harm to society’s most vulnerable individuals have become far too common an occurrence.
In the Canadian context, this means turning our hearts and minds to the human tragedy of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. This is an issue that has been front and centre in our Aboriginal communities for over a decade. The plight of missing and murdered Aboriginal women has brought tremendous pain and suffering in homes, in families and throughout Aboriginal communities.
It’s a story of human tragedy, of loss of life, and of crushed dreams that families had for those who perished or remain missing. What’s more, this is an issue that goes far beyond politics, and government programs or services.
In my heart I know this is a matter that is of deep significance to all Canadians, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. What makes it an even greater tragedy is the reality that the sorrows brought on by this issue have lingered now for over a decade.
As a mother, a sister, a daughter and a Grandma – and as a proud First Nations woman, I ache for the families of these victims. I feel I have a personal responsibility to act, to do something in the name of those whose voices have been silenced and thus can no longer be heard.
That is why I’ve launched an inquiry in the Senate on the plight of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Such inquiries are designed to provide time for daily debate in the Senate Chamber. This initiative is the first such inquiry by Parliament into the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Believe me, it is long overdue, and the Liberal Senate Caucus is determined to act in response to this very real human tragedy.
The statistics are indeed grim: nearly 600 cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women. Of those, 153 were cases of murder, representing approximately 10% of the total number of female homicides in Canada – despite the fact that Aboriginal women make up only 3% of the total female population in this country.
What makes the review of these figures even more sorrowful is that they represent an even greater tragedy: a great majority of the victims were young – under the age of 31. Also, 88% of missing and murdered Aboriginal women left behind children and grandchildren.
It would be wrong to say that nothing has been done to date. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has been a tireless champion of this cause through its Sisters in Spirit initiative and its follow-up research program, What Their Stories Tell Us.
We understand as well that there have been discussions between the provinces and with national Aboriginal organizations on this critical issue, the latest of which took place in Manitoba early in November. This is another key step in helping to build momentum on moving forward with all stakeholders.
From the federal perspective, we acknowledge the measures and funding announced by the government in Budget 2010. Yet, there continues to be calls by some for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
But do we know where progress has been made? Are cases being solved? Are measures ensuring there is no further loss of life proving successful? Are Aboriginal women and girls now safer than they’ve been in recent memory? Has risk been diminished and protection increased?
The reality is that we do not know. So, our Liberal Senate Caucus presses on with its call to action in response to these unanswered questions.
Our caucus is eager to work across party lines and jurisdictions to act for Canadians, for Aboriginal women and girls and for their families. We want and need to do what we have been put here to do, both as legislators and advocates for Canadians.
In my address to the Senate on December 4th, 2012, I proposed that we study this matter in and through the Senate; that we review the status, impact and effectiveness of the government response to date; that we engage in dialogue with national Aboriginal leaders and particularly the Native Women’s Association of Canada, to determine ways of working with them to truly end the plight of Aboriginal women; and, that we engage other stakeholders who can bring about closure, resolution and prevention to the scourge of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
The point that needs to be made here is that we, in the Senate, have the means at our disposal to act, and to do so now. We need to look into this tragedy in the Senate and in committee. We need to show the leadership required to meet these challenges head-on.
Another key point driving my determination in this crusade is the need for us to acknowledge that progress so far has not been good enough. If we want justice, if we want to honour the memories of those missing and murdered, and to protect our Aboriginal women and girls from any future harm, we need to admit that we indeed have the opportunity to do more. I urged all senators to choose to be part of the solution.
I encouraged members of the Senate to work together constructively, using all the talents and experiences that brought us to the Upper Chamber to rid this country of the terrible legacy of missing and murdered Aboriginal women once and for all.
The call for action around this issue is not limited to Canada’s Parliament. Canadians are a kind and generous people, compassionate and caring in the face of such tragedy.
We need to increase awareness surrounding this tragedy. We need to echo the call for action to those in communities who can constructively contribute to solutions. And we need to share with one another, and amplify the voices calling for action.
My Senate inquiry into this matter is not the end of our action; it is only the beginning. To honour the victims, we must act together to increase hope for the safe return of those missing, and to once again make our communities safe for Aboriginal women and girls.