Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

1,181 females slain, missing

Aboriginal women, girls more prone to violent death, RCMP data show

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Manitoba's aboriginal women and girls make up about half the province's female homicide victims, despite accounting for only a small portion of the overall population.

Police solve those killings at virtually the same rate as those involving non-natives.

These are two of the key findings unveiled by RCMP in Winnipeg Friday as it released a report into an operational review of cases involving missing and slain aboriginal women.

The report confirms what many long suspected: The number of cases of missing and slain native women in Canada is greater than had been publicly disclosed by police in the past.

After gathering information from police agencies across Canada, the total number of missing and murdered indigenous females is 1,181, RCMP said, with 1,017 of them confirmed as homicides from 1980 to 2012.

"The overall number is critical for me in terms of painting a picture... to show the disproportionality of violence towards aboriginal women in this country," said RCMP D Division Assistant Commissioner Kevin Brosseau.

Police call the report a definitive snapshot of the scope of the tragedy and a concrete starting point from which to tackle it.

'The overall number is critical for me in terms of painting a picture... to show the disproportionality of violence towards aboriginal women in this country'

--RCMP D Division Assistant Commissioner Kevin Brosseau

"That is the biggest take-away, the thing that all of us ought to now reflect upon," Brosseau said, describing the findings as "a call to action" for Canadians to work co-operatively with police to find solutions.

Ninety-two per cent of aboriginal victims were killed by an acquaintance, spouse or other family member.

The data reveal in the past 30 years, the homicide rate of aboriginal women and girls has been increasing, while it has been decreasing when it comes to non-aboriginal female victims.

The total number of slain and missing native females is "drastically bigger" than previous reports stated, Brosseau said.

Currently, 120 of the homicides remain unsolved, RCMP data show.

In Manitoba, of the 397 females killed during the examination period, 196 were confirmed to be of aboriginal descent, or 49 per cent.

Twenty of those cases remain unsolved, RCMP said.

The rate at which cases of aboriginal and non-aboriginal female homicides are solved in Manitoba stands at 90 and 91 per cent, respectively.

That's in line with the national average. Only New Brunswick police have solved 100 per cent of the homicides of aboriginal females.

The rate at which police solve the case declines if the victim was in the sex trade. That's true for all women, not just aboriginals.

RCMP also looked at vulnerability factors such as employment rate, sex-trade involvement and a history with the justice system.

Aboriginal females who were killed were less likely to have been employed, more likely to have consumed drugs or alcohol prior to their deaths, more likely to have criminal records and, on average, were younger than non-aboriginal victims.

"It's by no means on our part to accord any type of blame to the victim... but the reality is that there are difficult social and economic circumstances that need to be considered and need to be discussed as we move forward," said Supt. Tyler Bates, RCMP director of national aboriginal policing.

Eight-nine per cent of female victims were killed by men, RCMP said.

Jennifer Spence's cousin, Sandi-Lynn Malcolm, 17, was slain by her boyfriend on Ebb and Flow First Nation in January 2010. He had a documented history of abusing her.

"It was really devastating for us," she said. "The entire life of (my) family... is shattered. It affected the whole community."

Reacting to the RCMP report, Spence said there's a difference between acknowledging the situation and doing something about it.

At the sentencing for Malcolm's killer, court heard the nearest domestic-violence shelter to Ebb and Flow is 50 kilometres away, in Dauphin.

"Let's take action," said Spence. "I'll believe that these numbers will go down when there are ways to work with the people who deal with the domestic-violence victims and survivors."

Janice Armstrong, RCMP deputy commissioner for contract and aboriginal policing, said: "We still have a lot of unanswered questions... but I think this research project, this operational overview, is an excellent first step in that direction from a policing community. It's my hope... it will contribute to that larger Canadian conversation.

-- with files from The Canadian Press

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 A3

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