By PATRICK HUNTER
“It’s very clear that there has been very fulsome study of this particular … of these particular things. They’re not all one phenomenon,” said Harper. “We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime.”
This was how the CBC quoted Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his refusal to hold a public inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
“Not a sociological phenomenon”. Really? A significant number of women of a specific group have gone missing with some turning up dead without a reasonable explanation. It would seem to beg a very important question: Why? That is the foundation, I would think, of a sociological phenomenon. What is at the root of these disappearances and what can be done to stop it?
I will say this in Harper’s favour: An inquiry would probably take a considerable time to complete. That would mean nothing would get done until the report was submitted. Of course, at the other end of that reporting stage, there are no guarantees that anything will get done.
Our communities, both the First Nations and Black communities – have long and frustrating experiences with those types of outcomes. Royal Commissions, judicial inquiries, public inquiries – over the years, we have seen our share of those with very little action taken on their recommendations. So Harper is probably admitting, as bluntly as politics will let him, that this is not important in the grand scheme of things, and nothing will change.
In 1996, five years after it was appointed, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples submitted its report. It was a long and detailed report which was hailed by many to be ground-breaking and a positive step towards renewing the relationship between Canada and its first peoples. At its core, the Commission called for a respectful nation-to-nation relationship between the two entities. It would have – and should have – been the beginning of a relationship that would respect the traditions and culture of the First Nations and largely give them control over their own destiny. Much of the report’s recommendation never made it to the decision table.
Over the years, we have seen confrontations and evidence of exasperation between the federal government and First Nations. We have learned much more about how the settler group treated the First Nations, and we have seen some elements of contrition. More recently, we have witnessed the revelations of the abuse endured by indigenous children who were forcibly removed from their family homes in an effort to “get the Indian out of them”.
It is very difficult not to come to a conclusion that Canadian governments and agencies, regardless of party affiliation, view Canada’s indigenous communities as “throwaway” peoples.
The Picton affair in British Columbia uncovered the disappearances of a large number of women, many of whom were indigenous. It also brought to light the apparent casualness with which the police responded. Even as bodies were being unearthed from the Picton farm, the lack of concern was palpable.
We have seen, here in Toronto, a number of situations where Black people have been murdered and a considerable number of those crimes remain unsolved. There have been questions: Are the police employing all the necessary resources to catch these murderers? Is the level of investigation being employed the same as if it was White people being murdered?
What if White women were disappearing and turning up dead? Would Harper’s response be the same?
I am sure the Prime Minister would readily deny that race has anything to do with it. One of the things that we have come to “appreciate” is that victims have a different perspective on an issue than the perpetrators.
In its opening notes, the authors of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples remarked: “Aboriginal people do not want pity or handouts. They want recognition that these problems are largely the result of loss of their lands and resources, destruction of their economies and social institutions, and denial of their nationhood.
“They seek a range of remedies for these injustices, but most of all, they seek control of their lives.”
The recognition of a people as a people of equal rights must begin with a recognition that wrongs have been done against them from the beginning and every effort has to be made to right those wrongs wherever they occurred. The purpose of an inquiry would be to better understand the circumstances that led to these devastations among Canada’s first peoples and how best to repair the damage done.
In other words, most of us believe that these are more than “just crimes”.
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