An RCMP report says aboriginal women have been much more prone to violent death than non-natives, but police have solved cases involving both groups at almost the same rate.

The Mounties call the National Operational Overview on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, released on Friday at its D Division headquarters in Winnipeg, their most comprehensive account to date of Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women, which shows aboriginal women are over-represented in stats of missing and murdered women.

The RCMP say they worked with Statistics Canada and almost 300 policing agencies to produce the report, which found that aboriginal women account for 4.3 per cent of the overall Canadian female population yet account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of the cases of missing women.

Missing and murdered women

Elder Marielee Nault gives a blessing at the start of the news conference to release the RCMP report Friday in Winnipeg. (Genevieve Murchison/CBC)

"I can tell you as police officers, we see these tragic circumstances playing out in communities first-hand," said assistant commissioner Kevin Brosseau of RCMP D Division (Manitoba).

"And while we'll present our findings in terms of statistics and numbers, we never lose sight of the fact that each and every statistic, each and every number, is an aboriginal woman, is an aboriginal girl that is somebody's mother, somebody's sister, somebody's daughter and somebody's loved one.”

Since 1980 the rate of women who are victims of homicide has trended down, except the rate for aboriginal women, which has increased, the report states.

Police forces across Canada have solved 88 per cent of aboriginal female homicides since 1980 and 89 per cent of cases involving non-natives.

Officials said there have been 1,181 police-recorded incidents of aboriginal homicides and unresolved missing women investigations over the past three decades — a much higher number than previously thought.

Key findings in the report:

  • Of the 1,181 investigations, 1,017 are aboriginal female homicide victims between 1980 and 2012 and 164 women are considered missing.
  • Currently, there are 225 unsolved cases: 120 are homicides, 105 are missing or foul play suspected.
  • Aboriginal women make up 16 per cent of all murdered women on record, five per cent of all murders on record and 11.3 per cent of all missing women on record.​
  • Aboriginal women are most likely to be murdered by an acquaintance (30 per cent), spouse (29 per cent), or family member (24 per cent).

More than 90 per cent of indigenous female murder victims knew their killer, RCMP said.

A general profile of the killers that emerged from the report showed that 89 per cent of the offenders are male and are an average age of 35.

“The perpetrators of aboriginal female homicides are typically less employed, they have increased use of intoxicants, are more frequently on social assistance [and] an increased percentage of them have criminal records, as well as a history of violence with the victim they killed,” said Supt. Tyler Bates, director of national aboriginal policing and crime prevention services.

“Many of them have been [previously] convicted of a violent offence.”

The report states 44 per cent of murdered aboriginal women were found to have a criminal record, while 63 per cent were found to have consumed intoxicants just before their deaths. A smaller number of victims (12 per cent) had worked in the sex trade.

"It is with a heavy heart that I point out some of these vulnerability factors," said Bates.

"It is by no means on our part to accord any type of blame to the victim with respect to discussing these vulnerability factors, but the reality is that there are difficult social and economic circumstances that need to be considered and need to be discussed as we move forward with the prevention work we do in our communities."

The RCMP say they are sharing the data with other police forces and have directed their own divisions to review all outstanding cases. 

They are also promising to add resources to investigative units where needed.

RCMP say they want to ensure there is necessary supervision on missing person investigations and that officers provide more timely communication with families.

They also pledged to create a mandatory national missing persons intake form and implement a national risk assessment tool as an investigative aid.

Government has resisted calls for inquiry

The federal government has so far resisted calls for a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women, saying the issue has been studied enough and it's time for action.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the RCMP report will inform the government in its "efforts to keep our streets and communities safe."

"Some 40 studies have already been completed over the years dealing with the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. We must continue to take concrete action now, not just continue to study the issue," MacKay said in a statement.

"Information gathering and discussions may help, but police investigations, new tools and techniques, as well as preventative, pre-emptive programming, are what deliver tangible results. That is exactly where we intend to continue our focus."

The report appeared to do little to quell calls for an inquiry and prompted more debate in the House of Commons on Friday.

"Conservative policies and programs are not working, so will they finally listen to the families and to Canadians across the country and call for a national public inquiry?" New Democrat MP Nycole Turmel asked during question period.

Bob Dechert, parliamentary secretary for justice, responded by pointing to recent funding increases to fight domestic violence.

More services for women needed, some say

The Assembly of First Nations said an inquiry would force the government to address the issue by boosting women's shelters and other programs.

"While there have been many reports and findings to date, a national public commission of inquiry would demand immediate action, build on existing data and address the reasons why existing recommendations haven't been already implemented," Cameron Alexis, AFN regional chief for Alberta, said in a written statement.

Frances Chartrand with the Manitoba Métis Federation said the report requires concrete action, including more services for women in communities across the country.

"What's going to the grassroots? We need programs and services at the local level," she told The Canadian Press.

Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the RCMP report is a step in the right direction but "it's not the full step."

"The full step needs to be a full public inquiry. But it is an intermediate step, and it does raise the spectre of concern that, you know, there is a much bigger issue out there," he told CBC News.

A United Nations official who spent nine days in Canada last year studying aboriginal issues has also called for an inquiry. James Anaya said Monday that even though some steps have been taken, an investigation into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls is necessary.

Earlier this month, Métis actor and singer Tom Jackson added his voice to the inquest call.

"If we don't protect the people who live around us, what does that say about us as a society?" Jackson said May 8 on Parliament Hill. 



RCMP graphics

Graphics provided by the RCMP to illustrate the missing and murdered Aboriginal women report. (RCMP)

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story suggested that aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population. The RCMP report states that 4.3 per cent of Canadians who responded to Statistics Canada's 2011 National Household Survey identify themselves as aboriginal. Similarly, it says aboriginal women account for 4.3 per cent of the overall female population.
    May 16, 2014 2:06 PM CT
With files from The Canadian Press