WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s aboriginal women and girls make up about half of the province’s female homicide victims, despite accounting for only a small portion of the overall population.
But the killings get solved by police in virtually the same numbers as non-natives.
These are just two of several key findings unveiled by RCMP in Winnipeg on Friday as the federal force released an operational review report into missing and murdered aboriginal females in Canada.
The report is being lauded by police as a much-needed and definitive data snapshot and also a concrete starting point to spur social change to tackle the pressing issue.
The RCMP report also confirms what many had long suspected: The number of cases of missing and murdered native women in Canada is greater than had publicly been disclosed by police in the past. After gathering information from police agencies across the country, the total number of missing and murdered indigenous females is 1,181, RCMP said, with 1,017 of them being confirmed homicide cases between the examination period of 1980-2012.
"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.
"That is the biggest take-away, the thing that all of us ought to now reflect upon," Brosseau said, describing the report’s findings as "a call to action" for all Canadians to work co-operatively with police to find solutions.
Overwhelmingly, aboriginal victims were killed by someone who knew them. A total of 92 per cent of aboriginal victims were killed by an acquaintance, spouse or other family member.
The data also grimly reveals total homicides of women and girls in Canada has been trending downward, with the exception of those who are aboriginal, which have increased over the past three decades.
The total number of murdered and missing native females is "drastically bigger" than previous reports had stated, Brosseau said. Currently, 120 of the total killings remain unsolved, the RCMP data shows. Of the 397 Manitoba females killed over the data-examination period, 196 were confirmed to be of aboriginal decent, or 49 per cent, the data shows. Twenty of those cases are unsolved, RCMP said.
The police "solve rate," however, of both aboriginal and non aboriginal female homicides in Manitoba stands at 90 and 91 per cent, in line with the national average, the data shows. Only New Brunswick police boast a 100 per cent solve rate for killings of aboriginal females they investigate.
The rate of police being able to close cases declines, however, if the victim was involved in the sex trade. The caveat is that this remains true for all women, not just aboriginals.
RCMP also looked at so-called "vulnerability factors" of victims, 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.
Alarmingly, 89 per cent of female homicides are committed by men, RCMP said.
Jennifer Spence’s cousin, Sandi-Lynn Malcolm, 17, was brutally murdered 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," she said. "It affected the whole community," Spence said.
Reacting to the RCMP report, Spence said there’s a big difference between an acknowledgement of the situation and doing something about it to protect people.
At the sentencing for Malcolm’s killer, court heard the nearest domestic-violence shelter to Ebb and Flow was 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," she said.
» Winnipeg Free Press, with files from The Canadian Press