Judge's comments referencing MMIW were 'victim blaming,' advocates say

A Saskatoon judge's comments to an intoxicated women who was arrested after being found passed out outside an apartment building are "insensitive," according to a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice chief.

Saskatoon judge says intoxicated woman was 'prime candidate to become a missing Aboriginal woman'

Provincial Court in Saskatoon. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

A Saskatoon judge is being criticized for saying a woman who was arrested for being intoxicated was a "prime candidate to become a missing Aboriginal woman." 

Two advocates say the comments by the Saskatoon provincial court judge were insensitive and case of victim blaming. 

The comments were made inside provincial court on July 28. 

The woman had been charged with breach of probation for possessing alcohol. Crown prosecutors said she was found lying on the ground out in front of an apartment that is on Appleby Drive, high on an unknown substance. 

Speaking directly to the accused, Judge Brent Klause said "this is probably a long shot but have you heard about the commission for missing Aboriginal women?"

The accused said she did. 

"You're a prime candidate to become a missing Aboriginal woman with this lifestyle," Klause then said. 

The accused then replied: "I understand that."

Comments insensitive: vice chief

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations first Vice Chief Kimberly Jonathan said those comments were victim blaming and insensitive. 

"We never blame the victim in any case," Jonathan said. 

"It is insensitive and this is the type of reality we deal with as Indigenous women on a daily basis."

Jonathan said she understands that a women who is intoxicated, lying on the ground is at risk. But she says there is a need to show respect while understanding various risk factors. 

"But there is a difference between identifying the problem, speaking the truth and being human about it. You don't kick someone when they are at their lowest, when they are in your courtroom where you have full control," she said.

Judge Klause declined comment. A court spokesperson said judges don't comment on matters in court. 

'It's stereotyping and victim blaming'

Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, a longtime advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, said it's a good thing the judge was aware of the inquiry and trying to help, but that his comments were inappropriate. 

"Basically, it's stereotyping and victim blaming," Okemaysim-Sicotte said. 

Basically, it's stereotyping and victim blaming.- Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte

She said the question implies that the onus for preventing crimes against Indigenous women is on the women themselves, not the perpetrators. 

"I don't know that's the way to go about it. Signalling out someone who is already vulnerable. When you are just taking a a little jab at a vulnerable person," she said.  

An RCMP report released in 2014 called Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women:National Operational Overview, the national police force did identify the "use of intoxicants" as a one of the "risk factors of murdered Aboriginal females."

The report said Indigenous women were more likely than non-Indigenous women to have consumed an intoxicant prior to the being the victim. 

"From the data available between 1997 and 2012, Indigenous females were more likely than non-Indigenous females to have consumed some form of alcohol and/or drugs or other intoxicating substance prior to the incident," the report said.  

Jonathan said all Indigenous women are at risk because they are Indigenous and women need to work hard to protect themselves.

"All Indigenous women are at risk. I'm at risk and I am fully aware of that, as are my Indigenous daughters.They are at risk because of the way society views us," Jonathan said. 

About the Author

Charles Hamilton is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.