Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/8/2015 (2067 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In his bold article, Gordon Sinclair asks, So chief, where are you now? (July 25) in relation to the tragic case of Rinelle Harper. Rinelle is the aboriginal girl who was viciously attacked and beaten by an aboriginal man and a male aboriginal youth. The Harper family home in Garden Hill was later burned to the ground in what is suspected to be an act of arson. The chiefs used Rinelle as a prop in their ongoing demand for an inquiry into the cases of missing aboriginal women, but then apparently lost interest in her when she was of no further political use to them. Sinclair's question deserves an answer. He exposes the hypocrisy of the aboriginal leadership in Rinelle's case. But there are other questions that should also be asked of the chiefs, and the hypocrisy does not end there.
Rinelle is a typical female aboriginal victim of violence in that her alleged attackers were also aboriginal. When aboriginal women are battered or murdered, the perpetrator is their male partner in the overwhelming majority of the cases. That partner is almost always aboriginal. Aboriginal women are also far more likely to be battered or murdered by their partners than are non-aboriginal women. It was my experience as a judge sitting in court that when the batterers were brought to court for sentencing they invariably blamed alcohol, a bad upbringing, or almost any other excuse that came to mind rather than accepting personal responsibility for their actions. Recidivism rates were thus very high.
The problem is well known, but rather than concentrating on the massive problem of aboriginal male violence to women, aboriginal leaders insist on trying to focus on the tiny fraction of female victims of violence who are missing and may have been murdered by non-aboriginal men. To be fair to the chiefs (some of whom are women) and other aboriginal leaders, there are some people within the aboriginal community who have long recognized the problem of male violence to women as a major issue, and who have been taking steps to address it.
For example, the "moose patch" initiative in British Columbia, in which men wear small patches of moose hide prominently on their clothing to draw awareness to the problem of male violence, is a highly creative and worthy program. But these initiatives are few and far between, and I think it is fair to say the public message that comes from the chiefs is one that attempts to find fault with others in relation to missing women, rather than confronting the much larger problem of male violence to women within their communities.
So my question for the chiefs is this: If the concern truly is the safety of aboriginal women, why are you not focusing attention on the alarming numbers of aboriginal women who are being bloodied on a daily basis by their violent partners and instead fixating only on the one per cent that involve an unknown assailant?
In the cases of the missing women, their grieving family members certainly deserve answers. However, we know most of these answers from previous inquiries. Most of the missing women are vulnerable to predators, such as Robert Pickton, because they live high-risk lives as street prostitutes. There is a disproportionate number of these sad women who are aboriginal for the same reasons that there are grossly disproportionate numbers of aboriginal children in the child welfare system, grossly disproportionate numbers of aboriginal men and women in jail, and on and on. Those awful numbers are the legacy of our Indian Act and reserve system, which have spawned the chronic dependence that leads directly to social pathologies.
We also know that conviction rates for murder in missing women cases that are solved are virtually identical for aboriginal and non-aboriginal female victims. So we have these answers. What is not understood is why, in the case of the overwhelming majority of female aboriginal victims of violence, such a shockingly large number of aboriginal men treat their partners in such an utterly disrespectful manner.
Male violence to women in general society stubbornly hangs on as a serious problem that refuses to go away. However, in the aboriginal community it is a crippling problem. Aboriginal women are an at-risk demographic, and they deserve an inquiry. The aboriginal community simply must address this problem in order to move on. However, I suggest that it would be wrong to limit the inquiry to the cases of missing women. The inquiry should examine the whole vexing problem of violence done to aboriginal women, and not just target the government and police agencies. It should shine the spotlight on the only people who can provide the remedy -- the violent male offenders.
Brian Giesbrecht was a provincial court judge from 1976 until 2007. He is now retired.