Canada’s disappearing natives


Friday, April 18, 2003

More than half of the women who disappear in Canada are Aboriginal - yet Aboriginal women number just one in 50 of all Canadians.

Police have charged Robert Pickton with 15 murders.

This high discrepancy is now causing major concern among several women's and native groups in the country.

In some cases, serial murder has been suspected - but in others, the women have simply disappeared.

"In 1998 [the police] pooh-poohed the idea that a serial killer was at large," Ernie Cray, whose sister Dawn was last seen two years ago, told the BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.

Dawn lived on the streets in Vancouver's East Side, where around 65 women have gone missing - 30 of them native Canadians.

"They dismissed the disappearance of these women as something that you could attribute to these women being part of what they call a 'transient population'.

"But the common knowledge on the street was that something serious was afoot. The police, however, at their own admission, said they were going to scale back their investigation."

In late 2000, the police informed Dawn's family that they were concerned about her whereabouts after she failed to collect her prescription for methadone and stopped cashing her benefit cheques.

Canadians protested against the police scaling down their investigation.

However, they later announced plans to scale down their investigations into the disappearances of Vancouven Aboriginals.

A number of demonstrations followed, which forced the police - including the national mounted police - to begin renewed interest into the cases.

They subsequently arrested 52-year-old pig farmer Robert William Pickton, who is now facing charges for the murder of 15 women - and is suspected of killing far more.

'Lack of concern'

"Not only where my sister is concerned - and here I speak of the early part of the investigation - I think the disappearance of my sister and the many other women got short shrift," Mr Cray said.

Terry Brown, president of the Canadian Native Women's Association, said Dawn Cray's case was typical of a "lack of concern" for women disappearing across the country.

"Over 15 years we've counted about 500 women who have gone missing," Ms Brown said.

"It's well known that there's not a lot of concern for women who go missing if they're poor or if they're Aboriginal."

She blamed this on the perception of Aboriginal people in Canada's media.

"Sadly we face a lot of racism," she said.

"All you ever read about in the media is that, unfortunately and sadly, we're a bunch of drunks and we don't work and we can't look after our children.

"All these negative stereotypes still prevail in this country, so people are very apathetic, and they blame the victims.

"Sadly, these women didn't come into the world like this."

She added that she felt Canada's police reacted differently to Inuit cases compared with whites.

"If it was a person from a wealthy neighbourhood, you'd have a different response," she contended.

"Across the country, if something happened to wealthy people, influential people, that's what the police are there for - but they're not there for us.

"We know that as Aboriginal people - so rarely do people even report cases of rape or crimes against us."

'Without differentiation'

But Rochel Patteneau of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said there was no discrimination in the way they deal with missing person's investigations.

"I take great exception to that," she said.

"The RCMP investigate all missing person's reports, and they are treated with the same level of professionalism and priority, and investigated without differentiation or preference."

And she added that the RCMP had special branches dedicated solely to Inuits.

"We actually have a branch designed especially for Aboriginal policing services, specifically designed to work with Aboriginal communities across Canada.

"This is the only branch directed towards a specific race of people.

"We've working hard together to find solutions to these problems."

Courtesy of the BBC



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016