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Of the 10 provinces, Manitoba has the highest rate of homicide involving indigenous victims, a new study shows.
For the first time, Statistics Canada tracked the number of aboriginal people who were victims of homicide across the country, finding Manitoba has the highest provincial rate of homicides involving aboriginals. Aboriginals living in the province are nine times more likely to be killed in homicides than non-indigenous Manitobans.
In 2014, 29 aboriginals were victims of homicide in Manitoba, compared with 15 non-aboriginal victims. The homicide rate of aboriginal victims was 13.29 per 100,000 in Manitoba.
Manitoba retained the highest homicide rate in Canada for the eighth consecutive year.
The province reported 3.43 homicides per 100,000 residents, followed by Alberta (2.52 per 100,000) and Saskatchewan (2.13 per 100,000), Statistics Canada reported.
One-third of those accused of homicide across Canada in 2014 were aboriginal. In Manitoba, 37 aboriginal people were accused of homicide last year, compared with eight non-aboriginal suspects.
Aboriginals (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) accounted for nearly a quarter of the more than 500 homicides reported across Canada in 2014. Aboriginal women accounted for 20 per cent of homicide victims nationwide, while aboriginal men accounted for 23 per cent of homicide victims, even though aboriginal people make up only five per cent of Canada’s population.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick reported no killings of aboriginals.
In Manitoba last year, 67 per cent of homicide victims were aboriginal men and 64 per cent were aboriginal women.
David Milward, an associate professor of law at the University of Manitoba, said the statistics "bespeak very serious problems within aboriginal communities" that are rooted in decades of residential-school trauma.
That systemic abuse explains why aboriginal people are more likely to be victims, and perpetrators, of crime, he said.
"Aboriginal people find themselves more given to criminal behaviour because of the disadvantaged circumstances that they find themselves in, and I think this homicide-rate comparison adds additional grist to that mill," Milward said. Implicitly in our society, he added, "there seems to be less value attached to the lives of aboriginal persons in comparison to non-aboriginals."
To change that, Milward said Manitoba’s proposed restorative-justice strategy needs to have real teeth to help prevent people from committing violent crime in the first place.
"We do need restorative justice — and I don’t mean applying restorative justice to murder cases specifically," he said. "You need restorative justice to deal with criminal problems before someone actually gets to the point of becoming a murderer. There’s also a need for preventative programming to mould healthier aboriginal communities so that aboriginal kids are in child welfare less often, they have better educational outcomes, they have better economic opportunities after graduating; you need those things to mould healthier aboriginal communities, otherwise you’re just going to see more of the same."
All victims, regardless of race, were more likely to be killed by people they knew, the report shows, and the majority of all homicide cases were considered solved by police — 85 per cent of cases with aboriginal victims and 71 per cent with non-aboriginal victims.
Not so for Tina Fontaine. The 15-year-old’s body was pulled from the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014, and her killer has not been found.
"They are not numbers. They were people and they have names and they have families," said Tina’s great-aunt, Thelma Favel.
Favel said she still doesn’t know what happened to Tina, but she no longer has faith in the justice system and learning of the over-representation of aboriginal homicide victims — women and men — doesn’t help. Calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women don’t give her hope, Favel said.
"I don’t know what an inquiry is supposed to do. I don’t know if that’s going to stop this from happening to more aboriginal women," she said.
Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Derrick Henderson said there are six families, including Tina’s, who have missing or murdered relatives in his community alone. He said it’s important to focus on all aboriginal victims, not just women and girls.
"In our community, we have issues that are issues across Canada in all First Nations – the lack of housing, the lack of employment, the lack of opportunities. And I’m not blaming anybody; I mean, we have a responsibility for ourselves as individuals, but when you live on a reserve, it’s very confined," Henderson said.
"Our people move off the reserve. Where do they go? They go to the cities," he added. "They just become a statistic."
The homicide rate in Manitoba, as in all of Canada, has declined, but it’s still the highest among the provinces.
Manitoba had 44 homicides last year, down from 51 in 2013 — a decrease of nearly 15 per cent. Winnipeg had 26 homicides in 2014, one fewer than the year before. Winnipeg’s homicide rate of 3.29 per 100,000 people ranked second among Canadian cities with a population of at least 100,000. Thunder Bay, Ont., ranked first with a rate of 9.04.
Despite the decline in reported homicides from 2013-14, Manitoba RCMP "are constantly working and collaborating with our policing partners, local governments, and community groups to develop crime reduction and prevention strategies that address the root causes of crime to ensure our communities remain safe and secure," spokesman Sgt. Bert Paquet said in an emailed statement.
"Beyond the numbers, we recognize that each victim is someone’s loved one and we must all work together to ensure that these tragedies end."
Deputy Chief Danny Smyth of the Winnipeg Police Service said he’s not "overly surprised" at the latest figures, since Winnipeg, and Manitoba in general, has always ranked higher than most jurisdictions.
He said, however, that because of the relatively small numbers involved, "even a swing of two or three" homicides can dramatically skew homicide rates.
Smyth also noted Winnipeg’s homicide totals are "still trending down."
He welcomed the fact Statistics Canada is now publishing more information about the backgrounds of victims, allowing police forces to analyze trends.
Asked about the fact indigenous men are many times more likely than other men to be killed, Smyth said that’s likely due to higher poverty and homelessness rates and loss of cultural identity.
"I think we’re seeing some of the residual effects of that. Many indigenous people find themselves in this social circumstance that makes them more vulnerable to being victims."
Across Canada, police services reported 516 homicides in 2014, four more than in the previous year. The homicide rate, however, was stable in 2014 (1.45 per 100,000 population), making 2013 and 2014 the years with the lowest homicide rates since 1966.
Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said it’s important to keep the statistics in context so governments and community leaders can address the root causes of violence.
"The sincerest concern I had on (the report is) it would draw potentially a negative connotation by the reader out there saying ‘well, tell them to fix their own problems – it’s their own problem they’re having at home, in their own backyard,’" he said.
Communities have to work together to tackle the deeper issues that have led to "such a horrendous situation," Chartrand said.
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"Indigenous people themselves won’t be able to solve this or achieve mass success unless all of us, holistically, are working on it.Because there’s still so many players involved here, whether it’s the justice system, whether it’s the social-welfare system, whether it’s the housing system, there’s different factors that do play a role," he said.
Statistics Canada also made police-reported data available on the aboriginal identity of female homicide victims for the years 1980 to 2013.
The proportion of homicide victims who are aboriginal women has climbed sharply in recent decades, even though the number of victims has not changed much. That’s because the number of non-aboriginal women killed has been declining since 1991.
Between 1980 and 2014, police reported a total of 6,849 women killed. Female aboriginals accounted for 1,073 or 16 per cent of those.
— with files from Larry Kusch and The Canadian Press
Katie May Justice reporter
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Slightly more than 80 per cent of solved homicides in 2014 were committed by someone known to the victim, statistics show. Victims were most often killed by an acquaintance (37 per cent) or a family member (34 per cent) in 2014, including current or ex-spouses (16 per cent).
Aboriginal men are nine times more likely to be killed by a spouse than are non-aboriginal men.
Aboriginal men were seven times more likely to be homicide victims compared with non-aboriginal men and three times more likely than aboriginal women. The rate for aboriginal women was six times higher than for non-aboriginal women.
The rate of aboriginal women killed in homicides has remained relatively stable since 1980, the Statistics Canada report showed.
Between 1980 and 2014, police reported a total of 6,849 women killed. Aboriginal women accounted for 1,073 or 16 per cent of those.