By Frank Larue
Native women’s organizations such a Sisters in Spirit have been skeptical of how police forces across Canada have handled cases of missing Native women. It has never seemed to be a priority. Case in point: the Vancouver Police in the nineties refused to accept the fact that a serial killer was responsible for Native women disappearing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It wasn’t until a special task force was created that serial murderer Robert “Willie” Pickton was arrested and convicted.
In Winnipeg, a special task force has been created to deal with the number of missing Native women in Manitoba, and in British Columbia the E-Pana project was assembled to deal with women who have disappeared on the Highway of Tears. It seems police departments are finally on the same page and have taken steps to track and apprehend the criminals responsible for murdering Native women. Unfortunately, results have not been what many expected. RCMP began investigating The Highway of Tears 30 years ago, but no arrest has ever been made. This reflects negatively on the police who keep coming up short. The only province that is getting the job done and producing positive results is Saskatchewan, and the Saskatoon Police Force currently has the best record.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has released a report about solved homicides involving victims who are Native women. Police make an arrest and obtain a conviction in about 84% of homicide cases in which the victim is non-Native. When the victim is a Native woman, the percentage drops to 53%, and in some provinces (Alberta, for example) it dips below 50%. In Saskatchewan, however, the result is significantly higher at 78%. Kate Rexe, director of Sisters in Spirit, told the Star Phoenix, “It appears they are doing things well. We do believe there is a commitment in Saskatchewan, that is taken seriously.” Rexe also praised Saskatoon officers for the methods used to make their investigation more efficient.
The Saskatoon police have a complete racial profile of women gone missing, which is unlike most police forces who deny that Native women are targeted in this way. The Saskatoon Police Services chief stated, “It’s something that we take very seriously.” Another aspect of their investigation technique involves immediate response to any report of a woman suspected missing. They don’t wait for months to be sure the woman hasn’t simply moved, which is the excuse the Vancouver Police used even when the number of missing women in Vancouver’s Eastside was in the double digits.
In Saskatchewan, the government has begun funding missing person units and the results have gone beyond their expectations. All the missing person cases in Saskatoon since 1992 have been resolved. This is an incredible statistic, and one that police forces across Canada should aspire to achieve. Prince Albert police chief Dale McPhee, spokesman for the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police, said they keep a close watch on “people that are vulnerable.” And even though their record speaks for itself, McPhee admits, “There is work to be done.”