December 2022. Kera and Cambria Harris did not expect to become deputies for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Two young women lose their mother, Morgan. She had been missing for several months and according to police, some of her remains have been found in a landfill in the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba (Western Canada). The police claim that it is a difficult task to trace them completely.
Cambria states: “These women, who have given us life, are sacred and should always be treated as such. It keeps happening and we let it happen. Nobody does anything.”
With tears in their eyes and occasional sobs, Kera and Cambria spoke in Ottawa in front of an audience of Indigenous politicians from across the country. Wrapped in blankets donated in support by other indigenous women, the sisters expressed their despair and again called the police to inspect the dump.
Morgan Harris is part of a long list of Native women killed in one of the most racist cities in the country. There have been five suspicious deaths in recent months.
In Canada, such women are 12 times more likely to be murdered than others. Since 1980, nearly 1,200 indigenous women have been murdered or disappeared due to almost complete indifference. Proportionally, this official figure would equal 55,000 French women.
A recent report confirms that Indigenous women account for 36% of victims of femicide in Canada, despite the fact that they only account for 5% of the country’s total population of 38 million, by the Observatory on Femicide of Canada for the According to Justice and Accountability (CMJCA).
According to relatives, there are often irregularities in the investigation. They are not taken seriously and often have stereotypes associated with victims: they are “no more than drug addicts, prostitutes or alcoholics”. In short, they themselves are responsible for what happens to them.
According to Michelle Audet, the first Indigenous woman elected senator in Canada, the situation is another result of colonialist policies implemented in the country. “For too long, religious and political communities have allowed assault, humiliation and violence against Indigenous women. We have the evidence on file,” explains Audet, who was also commissioner of a large national inquiry into missing Indigenous women and girls . And he was assassinated (2016-2019).
The explosion of femicides across the country
In general terms, the latest CMJCA report confirms the explosion of feminism in the country. A total of 184 women were murdered in Canada last year, a 27% increase from 2019. This means that at least one woman is murdered every two days. That’s without counting the collateral victims of those murders, such as children.
Federal Minister for Women, Gender Equality and Youth Affairs Marcy Ian calls it “a national security problem that requires a response from all levels of government.”
Crystal Gijbrecht, a member of the CMJCA’s expert advisory committee, says the situation for women is worse than before the pandemic: “It’s about poverty, employment, unpaid work, child care, loss of independence and of course sexual violence and feminism.” I’m in. Couple,” she says, alarmed by the situation.
About 60% of the victims were killed by their partner or ex-partner.
Another CMJCA member, Claudette Dumont-Smith, thinks that number is likely to rise this year as well. Criticizingly, he says that “he’s not surprised.”
In fact, it is hard not to once again underline the numerical importance of Indigenous women in all of these statistics. “Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest rates of femicide. This is due to a disproportionate number of Indigenous women, as well as higher rates of femicide in non-urban areas,” says Crystal Giesbrecht.
But what can explain this increase? According to Menon Monastacy, executive director of the Federation of Women’s Shelters, the pandemic has had a significant impact.
“Women were not murdered in Quebec during the pandemic and the lockdown because men had total control over their women. It was the absolute expression of coercive control in its purest form,” says Monastacy. But when it was over, women went back to work, to see their colleagues, their friends, and there, I would call it not a wave, but a tsunami of women,” she adds.
To him, men have lost complete control over their wives and that is what has driven them to kill. “This situation shows us that when a man kills, it is when he has lost control of his partner,” he continues.
What is the solution?
The Observatory wants feminism to be included in the Canadian Penal Code and made a separate crime. “It is well documented that in cases of femicide, murder charges are often reduced to manslaughter, a practice known as ‘secrecy mitigation’. Femicide as a separate offense Giving recognition would help to correct this disparity,” argues Crystal Geisbrecht.
The federal government confirms it is “committed to fixing gaps in the criminal code to guarantee a firm response from justice.” It indicates that “consultation has begun on the inclusion of feminism in the Penal Code.” But in general, Canada’s Ministry of Justice believes that mechanisms are already in place to punish murderers of women to the extent they deserve.
He also mentioned the large sums—$300 million—invested in shelters and support centers for victims.
On the legislative front, Dumont-Smith believes the punishment for men who hit women should be harsher. “For now, the message is: ‘If you kill a woman it is not serious. Even less if she is indigenous,'” he says.
A specific approach should also be developed for these women. Senator Micheal Audet believes that when the focus is on the police, they make an effort, but soon the “old culture” reappears.
But there have been positive aspects as well. For example, Menon Monstase recalls that a year ago, five special courts for sexual and domestic violence were created. However, this pilot project was criticized by the judiciary, noting that it questions the presumption of innocence and fundamental principles of impartiality of the court.
The province of Quebec has launched several action plans to address the problem, but “all of these plans must be integrated and complementary. We need integrated strategies”, acknowledging that the roots of the problem must also be addressed. Must be addressed: the patriarchy.