February 14th is Saint Valentine’s day, a celebration of love between couples of the bond that keeps them together. It is ironic that it is the same day women across Canada stage public marches to remind everyone of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. In Vancouver, the 25th Downtown Eastside Memorial March attracted more than 5000 protesters. Some of the women held signs with messages inscribed “You Are Not Forgotten” or “Am I Next.” Relatives of the victims held the pictures of their lost daughters, cousins, sisters. They filled the streets on Hastings and Main all united in one sentiment: stop the violence against Aboriginal women.
Betsy Buyers has been attending the march for a decade, and she is skeptical about what has really been accomplished by all the marches. “It just doesn’t stop, and it looks like it’s getting worse, ” She told CTV News. “The situation, the crisis, the invisible war against indigenous women.”
When Willie Pickton was sent to jail in 2007, at that time 500 women were reported missing and many were presumed dead. In a 2012 RCMP report, the figure had more than doubled: 1211 Aboriginal women are now missing in Canada and most of them are cold cases that police have closed. Pickton was proof that Aboriginal women are targeted by psychopaths, but little was ever done by government or police after his trial to make sure such crimes would never be repeated. There have been exceptions. Saskatoon and Vancouver police have taken the problem more seriously than most police departments. Yet there is still no emergence on a national scale to end the violence against indigenous women. “I’d like people to educate themselves, especially men, and I’d like women to find their power, their voice,” Betsy Buyers said. “Let’s all work together and put an end to this.”
Marches were also held in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Montreal, Ottawa, and in Toronto marchers stood before the police headquarters, all echoing the demand for an inquiry which has been dismissed by Stephen Harper. “I’m not going to comment on the police investigation,” Harper told the CBC. “But as the RCMP has said in it’s own study, the vast majority of these cases are addressed and are solved through police investigations, and we’ll leave it in their hands.” Unfortunately this statement is a little short on credibility. There have been few cases solved. The Highway of Tears has had an RCMP task force investigating for years, and they have not solved one case. Harper’s lack of empathy seems to reflect a basic ignorance of the issue.
Claudette Dumont-Smith executive director of Native Women Association of Canada questioned Harper’s rejection of an inquiry. “Why are there so many Aboriginal women that are murdered compared to other women? Doesn’t he think that racism and sexism and colonialism play a part in all that?”
What is the true importance of an inquiry, and would it provide a solution? I don’t think so; there is no one solution to the problem. Beyond elevating awareness of the problem, an inquiry could consolidate police forces in implementing changes on a national level. Budgets are being cut all the time, but if the federal government made stopping violence against Native women a priority, it would offer at least a possibility of a solution. Harper is not going to change his mind unless violence against Native women becomes an issue in an election year. In the meantime, the pressure on government must not come only from women’s organizations but from everyone who can let Stephen Harper know that if his government can afford to send soldiers to Afghanistan and drop bombs on Syria, surely protecting the lives of Aboriginal women in Canada deserves equal attention.