Seventy per cent of the solved murders of aboriginal women were committed by people of aboriginal descent, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says in a letter to Grand Chief Bernice Martial of the Treaty Number 6 Nations.
The letter, dated April 7, was in response to a request from Martial for the RCMP's report on missing and murdered aboriginal women and for access to the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains database.
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"The consolidated data from the nearly 300 contributing police agencies has confirmed that 70 per cent of the offenders were of aboriginal origin, 25 per cent were non-aboriginal and five per cent were of unknown ethnicity," wrote Paulson.
He drove home the point that race is not a major consideration in the identification of offenders. For police, the stronger link is family members or spouses.
On top of that, identifying the racial background of criminals is contrary to RCMP philosophy.
"It is in the spirit of our bias-free policing policy that the RCMP has not thus far disclosed statistics on the ethnicity of he perpetrators of solved aboriginal female homicides," Paulson wrote.
Martial's request for the RCMP statistics was precipitated by a meeting in Calgary at the end of March where local First Nations leaders met with Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt, who mentioned the 70 per cent figure to the surprise of all present.
Paulson copied four people on the letter he sent to Martial:
- Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.
- Michelle Itwaru of the Assembly of First Nations.
- Lorna Martin of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC).
Interim president of the NWAC Dawn Harvard is uncomfortable that the RCMP went against its policy of releasing the ethnic background of criminals.
Beyond that, though, she has other worries related to the revelation.
"I almost want to say, 'so what.' Does this make it OK? Does this make it any less of a concern?" she said.
Harvard pointed out that in a way the 70 per cent statistic is irrelevant because it is about the same across all ethnicities. She believes the government is using the statistic as a way to discount the need for a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women.
"A lot of the concern in an inquiry is about the inappropriate response; the lack of response; the failure to protect; and, the disproportionately high rates of missing and murdered indigenous women regardless of the ethnicity of the perpetrators," she said.
The Assembly of First Nations accused the government of withholding information.
"Blaming the victim is no longer an option. The federal government must recognize the root causes of poverty and work with us to address the poor conditions and lack of supports that our people endure every day," National Chief Perry Bellegarde said.
In a statement from the office of the minister of status of women, the federal government reiterated its insistence that a national inquiry is not necessary.
"We have heard from victims' families that now is the time for action, not more studies, and that's what we are committed to. We look forward to continuing to work with our provincial and territorial partners, as well as First Nations' leaders to discuss how we can all take action to address this important issue," read the statement.
According to another RCMP report released last year, nearly 1,200 aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered since 1980. Although they make up four per cent of the Canadian female population, they account for 16 per cent of murders committed in Canada.