Monday, March 13, 2006

Violence and Discrimination Still Exists Against Aboriginal Women in 2006

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" I don't get the sense the general public cares much about missing or murdered Aboriginal women. It's all part of the indifference to the lives of Aboriginal People. They don't seem to matter as much as white people"

Journalist Covering the Trial of John Martin Crawford

Convicted of Murdering 3 Aboriginal Women in 1996

One of Canada's largest blemishes on its Human Rights record is its treatment of Aboriginal people and specifically Aboriginal women. In 2004 this was recognized by Amnesty International and a report entitled: Discrimnination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada was compiled, which highlighted the plight of Canada's Aboriginal women.

This report recognizes and highlights clear systemic and personal discrimination by law enforcement officials and also political officials that has taken place over the course of 30 years against Aboriginal women in Canada. It shows that this violence and discrimination of Aboriginal women has changed very little over this 30 year period in Canada and very little little has been done by government or law enforcement officials to change it.

On November 12, 1971 a young Aboriginal woman by the name of Helen Betty Osbourne was abducted and murdered by 4 non-native men from the town of The Pas Manitoba. She was sexually assaulted and then brutally killed. She was a 19 year old Cree student from Northern Manitoba that wanted to become a teacher. It took 15 years to bring only one of her 4 killers to justice.

A Provincial Inquiry into the matter concluded that Canadian auathorities had failed Betty Osbourne. The sloppy and racially biased police investigation was criticized and it was found that police were aware of non-native men preying on Aboriginal women and girls in the town of The Pas, but did nothing about it.

Some 30 years later fate struck the same family when a cousin of Betty Osbourne, named Felicia , failed to return home from school on March 25, 2003, she was 16 years old. Police in Winnepeg failed to treat the initial report of Felicia missing seriously. The family was told that police could not begin a search for her for 48 hrs, depsite the existence of no such policy. The official policy in the case of a missing person is to assess according to the risk to the missing person. Family members trying to find Felicia distributed posters, but none were distributed by the police. The families comments reflect their anger over the obvious mal-treatment they received during such an important investigation into their daughter's disapperance. Basicly they reflect the feelings of a society that continues to systemically and personally discriminate: if it was any other child other than a native child, police would have done everything in their power to find her. In June of 2003 body parts were found that were later identified to be that of Felicia, and to my knowledge, her killer has never been found and brought to justice.

A joint taskforce was formed by the RCMP and the Vancouver city police to investigate the disappearance of 60 women and one trans-gender person, 16 of whom were Aboriginal, from Vancouver British Columbia, over the last 10 years. A British Columbia man named Robert Pickton is currently awaiting trial on 22 murder charges related to the investigation. Police and city officials over the last 10 years have denied that any pattern existed in the disappearance of the women or that women were ever in danger. Only in 2002 after the disappearnce of a 26 year old Aboriginal woman while hitchhiking along a road that connects Prince George and Smithers British Columbia, did media attention focus on the insolved murders and other disappearances along what has been dubbed "the highway of Tears". In 1994 in 2 seperate incidents, 2 15 year old Aboriginal girls were found murdered in Prince George B.C. and the body of another Aboriginal girl that disapperared in 1994 also, was found in April of 1995 in Smithers B.C.

The families and other non-governmental organizations working on their behalf have had to be the ones to launch their own campaigns to bring these isssues to the attention of the police, media and government officials. It is the view of Amnesty International that the role of discrimination is fuelling the violence and also the denial of Aboriginal women from protection and allowing their perpetrators to escape justice.

There is an urgent need for Canadian officials to better understand and address violence against Aboriginal women living within non-native communities in Canada. Sadly, 30 years later women continue to be placed at risk simply because they are Aboriginal.

In the words of the Manitoba Justice Inquiry regarding the murder of Helen Betty Osbourne:

"There is one fundamental fact: her murder was a racist and sexist act. Betty Osbourne would be alive today had she not been an Aboriginal woman."