MMIWG cases continued at same rate even after national inquiry began, data shows

The rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls continued unabated during the mandate of the national inquiry created to investigate the root causes of the issue, according to figures in two separate databases provided to CBC News.

Databases report 3 deaths of Indigenous women and girls a month from 2016 to 2019

Ashley McKay, 25, was found dead by Thunder Bay police on Oct. 30. (Submitted by family of Ashley McKay)

The rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls continued unabated during the mandate of the national inquiry created to investigate the root causes of the issue, according to figures in two separate databases provided to CBC News.

There were more than 130 Indigenous women and girls reported as victims of a homicide, whose death was deemed suspicious, or who died while in institutional care from 2016 to 2019, according to the two databases.

Both databases showed rate of at least three deaths of Indigenous women and girls per month during that time span.

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls began its mandate on Sept.1, 2016.

One database provided to CBC, compiled by Kristen Gilchrist-Salles, a researcher who works with the grassroots group Families of Sisters in Spirit, found there were at least 140 deaths that were the result of homicides, suspicious deaths and deaths in police custody or while in the care of the child welfare system, between 2016 and 2019.

The data is based on open-source information such as news articles.

A second set of figures provided by the Sovereign Bodies Institute, a California-based non-profit organization which focuses on "community-engaged" research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people in the U.S. and Canada, found there were 131 cases between 2016 and 2019, involving homicide, death in custody and suspicious death.

'It's still happening'

An RCMP report, released in 2014 and covering an earlier period, determined there were 1,017 homicides of Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012, revealing a rate of about 2.6 deaths a month. The inquiry found the RCMP's figures were likely an undercount of cases.

Gilchrist-Salles said the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) cases shows the pattern of violence remains consistent despite the advent of the inquiry and the added publicity of the disproportionate level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls.

"I can tell you it's still happening, and it doesn't seem like it's slowing down in any capacity," said Gilchrist-Salles.

Ian McKay is the father of Ashley McKay who was remembered during a vigil on Nov. 6, 2018, in Thunder Bay. (CBC News)

"I haven't seen any decrease in violence," said Annita Lucchesi, executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, who is Cheyenne and a PhD candidate at the University of Lethbridge in cultural, social and political thought.

Ashley McKay, 25, was one of the women who was killed during the inquiry's mandate.

Her father, Ian McKay was working late at the Keewaywin First Nation airport last fall when the community's chief gave him news of his daughter had been murdered in Thunder bay.

To this day, emotion seizes McKay's voice when he remembers.

"The pain, it's so big at times. Life has stopped," said McKay, in a telephone interview with CBC News.

"There are no words to express how to say it."

McKay was found dead inside an apartment building in Thunder Bay on Oct. 30. Three people are awaiting trial in connection with her homicide.

She left behind six sisters and two brothers.

Candles are placed on a cardboard box outside an apartment building in Thunder Bay last November in memory of Ashley McKay. (CBC News)

Ian McKay said Ashley was the first of his children to graduate from high school. She was thinking about going to cooking school or being a pediatrician.

"She had goals and dreams," he said. "I am so proud of her. She will always be in my heart and my thoughts."

Inquiry questions RCMP numbers

The inquiry's final report, which concluded that murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls were victims of a wider genocide, said it could not determine a count for the number of MMIWG cases over the decades and across the country.

The inquiry questioned the RCMP's 2014 numbers which also concluded that there 164 disappearances of Indigenous women and girls between 1980 and 2012.

The RCMP numbers were based on the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Homicide Survey, the Canadian Police Information Centre and the RCMP's own files.

The report said there were problems with the accuracy of data inputted in both databases which left "identification of Indigeneity to the discretion of individual police officers." The inquiry said the numbers in the 2014 RCMP report "likely underestimate the true numbers."

Members of Families of Sisters in Spirit, from left, Bridget Tolley, Colleen Cardinal and Kristen Gilchrist-Salles. (Submitted by Kristen Gilchrist)

The Sovereign Bodies Institute's numbers provided to CBC News said there were a total of 359 missing and murdered cases cases between 2015 and 2019, including 167 involving homicide, death in custody and suspicious death, with 19 tallied so far this year. 

It also recorded 192 cases of missing persons in the same time span, with 16 recorded so far this year.

The number of missing persons cases in the database fluctuates based on when an individual is found. It also includes "unknown cases" where an individual is removed from a missing persons database at some point but no evidence exists to determine whether they were found or are deceased.

According to the institute, Alberta had the highest number of MMIWG cases between 2015 and 2019 with 93, followed by 65 in Ontario, 61 in Saskatchewan, 56 in Manitoba and 38 in British Columbia.

Annita Lucchesi has logged over 3,000 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and the U.S. After having difficulty finding a complete database three years ago, she decided to create one herself. (Submitted by Annita Lucchesi )

The institute's database counts 1,724 confirmed MMIWG cases in Canada dating back to the 1900s. Over 75 per cent  of the cases were recorded after 1980 and the numbers rise the closer they get to present day because records are more readily available, said Lucchesi.

Luchessi, who is a survivor of domestic violence and human trafficking, said there are similar patterns of MMIWG cases in Canada and the U.S., where her database has compiled 2,049 cases.

"There is a huge problem with the lack of safety and appropriate systems for our youth," said Luchessi.

"There are teen girls entered and deleted — missing and found — in the database who have gone missing 60 times …. Some of the more prominent cases in the database that have gone missing as adults actually went missing as children 10 or 15 years ago."


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him