MEMORIAL FOR TINA FONTAINE IN WINNIPEG
Credits: KRISTIN ANNABLE/Winnipeg Sun
A public inquiry is a useful tool when there are big public questions to be answered that need the power of a judge - the power to subpoena recalcitrant witnesses, the power to cross-examine witnesses under oath, the power to challenge a branch of government.
None of which applies to the tragedy of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.
There is no secret conspiracy at work. The opposite: we know all too well what the problems are. Perhaps that's why a formal inquiry is the fashion in Ottawa these days - it's an act of misdirection, away from the real issues, towards political theatre. That would suit bored journalists, partisan politicians and $600/hour lawyers just fine. But it wouldn't help Aboriginal women.
According to the RCMP, there are 6,420 missing persons in Canada, of whom 1,455 are women. That's the first point with crime statistics: they're always skewed along demographic lines. Men are greater perpetrators and victims of crimes than women.
Of those missing 1,455 women, 164 are Aboriginal. And out of those, 105 are missing in unknown or suspicious circumstances.
That's a lot. But if police can't find these women, how can a room full of white lawyers and activists, in a media circus?
Police have not been slackers. Fully 88% of murders of Aboriginal women have been solved by police - almost identical to the 89% of murders of non-Aboriginal women.
Between 1980 and 2012, there have been a total of 20,313 murders in Canada; 6,551 of those victims were women and 1,017 of those were Aboriginal women.
That's a tragedy, of course. But what's the judicial inquiry for?
The RCMP are not keeping this crisis hidden. In fact, they have gathered quite a bit of information about these murders. Almost 30% of these Aboriginal victims were murdered by their husbands, 23% by another family member. And another 30% were murdered by an acquaintance.
So only 8% of Aboriginal women were murdered by strangers.
That raises a lot of questions. But not questions best put before an inquiry, or even to Stephen Harper.
The statistics get darker. Of the family members and acquaintances who tend to kill Aboriginal women, 44% of them are drunk, compared to 15% of murderers of non-Aboriginal women. Seventy-four percent of the murderers of Aboriginal women are unemployed - much worse than for the murderers of non-Aboriginal women.
The most infuriating statistic is that 71% of the murderers of Aboriginal women already had a criminal record. Fifty-three percent had been convicted before of a violent crime; 62% had a history of violence with the specific murder victim herself.
The alcohol abuse, the social abuse, the lack of jobs, the welfare rates, all point to social ills in Aboriginal communities, particularly reserves. Indian chiefs have some answering to do.
But so does Ottawa. Because so many of these murderers are graduates of our two-tier justice system that gives Aboriginal offenders lighter sentences, or no sentences at all.
Out of white, liberal guilt, or simply the soft bigotry of low expectations, Canada's judges give a "discount" to Aboriginal criminals when it comes to sentencing. It's called the Gladue discount. It was devised by white judges who were very pleased with how tolerant and understanding they were. As they dumped violent Aboriginal criminals right back into their communities, where they continued to victimize the same women again and again - often to death.
If there's to be a judicial inquiry, let it be about that.