National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Julie Cool
Legal and Social Affairs Division

Although Aboriginal women make up about 4% of the Canadian population, they represented 11% of missing women and 16% of female homicides between 1980 and 2012.

Since the 1990s, several high-profile cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada have cast increased national and international attention on the violence faced by Aboriginal women and the response of the criminal justice system.

In a bid to identify solutions to the higher rates of violence experienced by these women, Aboriginal leaders and territorial and provincial premiers agreed in August 2014 to convene a National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The one-day roundtable will be held on 27 February in Ottawa.

Concrete step toward a national dialogue

The roundtable is described as a concrete step toward launching a national dialogue on halting violence against Aboriginal women and girls. It brings together representatives from a number of national and regional Aboriginal organizations, as well as territorial and provincial ministers and some federal cabinet ministers.

The roundtable will focus on three areas:

  • prevention and awareness;
  • community safety plans and protocols; and
  • policing measures and justice responses.

Participants are aiming for “tangible outcomes” in all three areas.

Two other activities are coinciding with the roundtable:

  • 26 February: Family members of missing and murdered Aboriginal women will convene for a Family Gathering to discuss solutions to end the violence and to prepare recommendations for presentation to the national roundtable.
  • 27 February: A Peoples’ Gathering will provide a venue for public discussion on recommendations for action to prevent and halt violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Difficult to determine actual numbers

Police forces do not systematically collect ethnicity data, so it is difficult to state the actual number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.

The number can be estimated using various databases, including data in Statistics Canada’s Homicide Survey, the Missing Persons Database, which is maintained by the RCMP’s National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains, and databases compiled by researchers using publicly available resources such as newspaper reports.

Using these and other sources, the RCMP produced its first comprehensive collection of data on missing and murdered Aboriginal women in 2014. The RCMP report indicated that, between 1980 and 2012, 164 Aboriginal women went missing and 1,017 were murdered.

In contrast, a 2010 report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada had suggested that 582 Aboriginal women were either missing or murdered. Both reports pointed out that Aboriginal women are much more likely to be missing and murdered than non-Aboriginal women.

High-profile cases have generated wider public attention

According to the RCMP report, the number of Aboriginal women murdered over the past 30 years has remained constant. Data suggesting that the proportion of murdered women who are Aboriginal has tripled, from 8% in 1984 to 23% in 2012, actually reflect a decline in the number of non-Aboriginal women who have been murdered over the same time frame.

Public attention on missing and murdered Aboriginal women increased following a number of high-profile cases. For example, between the mid-1990s and 2004, 16 of the 60 women who went missing from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia, were Aboriginal.

In 2004, an Amnesty International report documented other cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in western Canada.

Nationally, the issue was taken up by the Native Women’s Association through an initiative known as Sisters in Spirit. It documented the stories of the missing and murdered women and prepared a resource guide for families.

Every 4 October, vigils across Canada led by Sisters in Spirit honour the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, and support grieving families.

Parliamentary committee reports

In recent years, two parliamentary committees have examined the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, resulting in the tabling of three reports:

In response to the special committee’s report, the Government of Canada announced $25 million over five years in its 2014 Budget to implement its Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls.

Indigenous people in Canada have long called for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. However, others point out that the issues have been well documented and that the focus should be on implementing the many existing recommendations.

Nevertheless, many Aboriginal leaders hope the roundtable will help develop a national dialogue and identify solutions to the high prevalence of violence experienced by Aboriginal women and girls.