Opinion

A truly feminist government would consider the plight of Indigenous men: Robyn Urback

The Liberals are being asked to widen the scope of the MMIW inquiry to include missing and murdered Indigenous men.

The Liberals are being asked to widen the scope of the MMIW inquiry to include missing and murdered men

A coalition called Expand the Inquiry is asking the federal government to broaden the scope of its national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women to include Indigenous men. (CBC)

The government of so-called evidence-based decision making is ignoring a glut of evidence that would, in a non-image-obsessed scenario, compel it to expand its inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) to include missing and murdered Indigenous men.

It is rather remarkable that each time statistics about the homicide rate for Indigenous men (who are about two to three times more likely to be homicide victims than Indigenous women) get a little mainstream attention, there are still plenty of Canadians who are surprised by the information. But so entrenched in our national consciousness is this idea that Indigenous women are disproportionately the victims of Canada's colonial past that the actual numbers somehow never really disrupt the government's narrative, which has been focused exclusively on women.

Expand the Inquiry

On Thursday, a coalition called Expand the Inquiry arrived in Ottawa to urge the federal government to widen the scope of its inquiry to include "victims of all genders." The group includes prominent Indigenous leaders from B.C. such as Chief Ernie Crey and social worker Janine Cunningham, and is based on the Necktie Campaign founded by Lydia Daniels of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba, whose son Colten went missing in 2014.

The group submitted a formal request to Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett back in October, but so far, the government has offered no indication that it will expand the scope of its inquiry. Instead, it will continue to pursue a $53.8 million, two-year national review that ignores two-thirds of the victims and pretends the welfare of Indigenous men is somehow divorced from the well-being of Indigenous women.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett hasn't said whether the MMIW inquiry will also study missing and murdered Indigenous men. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

CBC News is itself guilty of focusing nearly exclusively on cases of Indigenous women and girls with much of its in-depth coverage. Yet in 2015, Statistics Canada reported the homicide rate for Indigenous males was three times that of Indigenous females (12.85 to 4.80, calculated per 100,000 Indigenous population). It also noted that the solve rate for homicides involving Indigenous victims was comparable between genders: 86 per cent for male victims and 83 per cent for female victims.

Though we have some idea of how many Indigenous women have gone missing over the past several decades (an RCMP report listed 1,181 reported cases between 1980 and 2012; a subsequent CBC report added 230 to that number) there is no comparable data for missing Indigenous men. That lack of information should be further basis for including men in what is supposed to be one of Canada's most comprehensive analyses of the struggles plaguing its Indigenous communities, but advocates for expanding the inquiry are still facing an uphill battle.

'Muddy the waters'

Advocates of the status quo — that is, keeping the inquiry focused wholly on the plight of girls and women — argue the experience of Indigenous women is complicated and unique, and that including men and boys in the inquiry would dilute its mandate.

Barbara Bailey, vice-chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said a combined inquiry would "muddy the waters." Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, pointed out to the Globe and Mail that Indigenous women experience the "double discrimination" of being both Indigenous and female, and because of that, they shouldn't be studied in the same forum as men.

To be sure, the life of an Indigenous woman is hardly analogous to that of an Indigenous man, and the racism, violence and other forms of oppression Indigenous women in particular face should absolutely be evaluated independently of men. But neither exists in a sort of gender-segregated vacuum wherein one has nothing to do with the other, and there's hardly a good reason why both can't be explored, separately and together, under the same umbrella. Surely this multimillion-dollar, two-year project — with its five commissioners, possible regional and issue advisory committees, new executive director, staff teams and relatively broad powers — can also find a way to consider the families of Canada's thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous men, along with those of women.

The reason why Canada's most flamboyantly feminist government wouldn't want to dilute its feminist cred with an inquiry into both men and women is obvious, but it sullies its supposed commitment to facts by pretending there's a good reason not to include male victims in its project. By the same token, a move to incorporate men really shouldn't erode the government's feminist cred at all; a proponent of principled feminism should have an appreciation for the welfare of men along with women — people who are our brothers, husbands, fathers, sons and friends.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section,  please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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