Harper’s stance on crime fails missing and murdered women

Call it a talking point that’s gone horribly, horribly wrong. 


Or perhaps it is simply a clash of ideologies, with politics trumping humanity.


Whatever the reason, it’s likely prime minister Stephen Harper is wishing he’d broached a question about the most recent murder of an aboriginal girl in Winnipeg with a bit more sensitivity.


Asked whether he would finally trigger a national inquiry into the more than 1,100 cases of murdered and missing aboriginal girls, the prime minister again refused, insisting Aug. 21 the most recent death of 15-year old Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg was not a “sociological phenomenon.” 


The teen’s mutilated body was recently pulled from the Red River wrapped in a plastic bag. The gruesome find has horrified Canadians, with many insisting enough is enough. 


The violent act, the prime minister said, should “first and foremost” be considered a crime.


“It is crime, against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such,” the prime minister said while on his annual tour to the North before touting his party’s record on the file. 


“We brought in laws across this country that I think are having more effect, in terms of crimes of violence against not just aboriginal women, but women and persons more generally. And we remain committed to that course of action,” he concluded.


The numbers, though, tell a different story. 


In May, the RCMP released a detailed breakdown into the 1,181 cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women since 1980. 


And, while aboriginal women make up only 4.3 percent of the population, the report found they account for 16 percent of female homicides and 11.3 percent of missing women. 


About 1,000 of these women were murdered, the RCMP said, adding there is reason to believe foul play was involved in those missing.


Think about that for a moment. In the last 30 years, nearly 1,200 women and girls have vanished from Canadian communities. 


One cannot help but wonder what the political reaction would be if the same number of white women had died or disappeared over a similar period of time.


It would certainly be harder to ignore.


Treating the disappearance of these women as a crime — as the prime minister suggested — fails to get to the root of the issue. 


As is too often the case these days with Conservative politics, the policy is reactionary to its core. 


It does not prevent something from happening, but rather waits for it to occur before intervening.


In this country, the RCMP cannot investigate a crime until one is committed. For aboriginal women, that means they must disappear before the police can become involved. 


Too often it’s already too late. 


The prime minister, along with the justice minister Peter Mackay, insist a national inquiry is simply another study. 


Instead, the Conservatives argue, efforts should be placed on creating a DNA database, toughening criminal legislation and bolstering police efforts. 


At the surface the approach seems somewhat reasoned, until one realizes again that a woman has to have actually gone missing for any of these Band-Aid solutions to take effect. 


It’s a point that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Harper’s critics on the file, including the United Nations, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, all of the provincial and territorial premiers, the RCMP, opposition parties and major aboriginal groups. 


Take a look at the list of proponents and the only ones missing are the federal government, elected officials who are charged with protecting — and representing — the entire country. 


The entire country: including aboriginal women and girls. 


The prime minister’s stance on the file cannot be winning him any votes. Instead, it appears only to be causing anger, inflicting pain and triggering much public disappointment, discouragement and disgust.


No woman or girl in Canada should feel unsafe and be afraid to walk the streets of their own communities, fearful of every car that slows down beside them. 


And, they certainly shouldn’t be asking themselves, “am I next?” 


The numbers don’t lie. Nearly 1,200 missing women is not an isolated incident. It is not simply a coincidence. 


It’s a systemic trend, which too often has a tragic end with heartbreaking consequences.

Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics, www.ipolitics.ca.

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