Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on his unofficial Make Canada Great Again tour, launched a long-overdue investigation on Tuesday into the country’s disproportionate number of murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls.
According to the Associated Press, a report from last year found that while women in First Nation communities make up only 4.3 percent of the country’s total female population, they account for 16 percent of all female homicide victims:
The police reviewed cases from 1980 to 2013 and found 1,181 aboriginal women fell into the missing or murdered category — almost double earlier estimates. Of those women, 164 were missing and 1,017 murdered.
Canada’s aboriginal women are also more than three times more likely than non-aboriginal women to report being the victim of a violent crime. Tuesday’s announcement came on the birthday of Tanya Holyk, an aboriginal woman who was killed in 1997 by serial killer Robert Pickton.
Despite the damning report, which followed a United Nations plea for an inquiry, former Prime Minister Harper—whose relationship with the country’s First Nation community was, like many of his relationships, strained—said in an interview that the issue (like many other important issues that went ignored during his catastrophic time in office) wasn’t “high on our radar.”
But the situation has radically, thankfully, changed. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first indigenous person to serve in her position, outlined the first stage of the inquiry at a news conference on Tuesday; ministers will meet with the families of missing and murdered First Nation women and advocacy organizations to gather information on their hopes for what the inquiry might achieve. She said:
“Doing better requires openness and the ability to listen. We have heard this loudly and clearly, and we have heard that this cannot be just another report.”
The AP reports that Trudeau received a standing ovation after his speech at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs, where he said, “The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to heal and to be heard. We must work together to put an end to this ongoing tragedy.” He is, according to the AP, the first Prime Minister “in recent memory” to attend the event.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde expressed his gratitude in a written statement to the CBC, writing: “After years of denial and deflection, it is my hope we can make real strides in achieving justice for families and achieving safety and security for all our people.”
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Image via Associated Press.