A researcher for a Quebec Indigenous women’s support centre has found double the number of women killed between 1980 and 2012 in the province than the RCMP has reported.
“The problem is that there’s a lack of wanting to know if these Indigenous women have been murdered or have been missing and how many,” said Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau, support worker and researcher for the Montreal-based Iskweu Project.
The RCMP reported 46 murdered Indigenous women in Quebec from 1980-2012 in a 2014 publication. Qavavauq-Bibeau identified almost 100 victims.
In an emailed statement, the RCMP said that only Indigenous women whose deaths were officially labelled as a “homicide” by a coroner or a doctor were included in the data, even if an investigation was ongoing into their death.
In French, they said, “In the same vein, all matters where the coroner’s office or a medical examiner determined the death was due to natural causes, an accident or a suicide, even if the family suspects it was due to homicide, is not included.”
That report represents the RCMP’S latest publicly available data for the province.
The public security ministry declined an interview request from APTN News but sent back an emailed statement.
The media representative said that while Sureté du Québec (SQ), Quebec’s provincial police force, does keep track of murder victims, they do not divulge this information to the public.
The SQ also did not say whether it keeps a breakdown based on race. The police indicated that the Native Women’s Association of Canada keeps track of that data, but the numbers are largely based in figures from 2010 and the SQ does not corroborate the data.
“I have a lot of data, but I wonder how much data I would really have if the coroners, the police, everybody really wanted to dig into these findings, in these murders to know if was it really suicide, was it really drug overdose,” said Qavavauq-Bibeau.
She said that investigations into deaths are often cut short when Indigenous women are involved even if family members or loved ones say otherwise.
“Just dealing with police is a really stressful situation, but dealing with police and not even being taken seriously like that’s really heartbreaking,” she said. “Like if the people that are supposed to help you are not helping you, who’s going to help you, so that’s when we come in.”
Investigations have corroborated what Qavavauq-Bibeau has experienced and heard about through her work.
CBC News’ ongoing Unresolved investigation looked into 34 deaths or disappearances of Indigenous women that authorities determined did not involve foul play despite family members claiming otherwise.
CBC found that in the majority of these cases, suspicious circumstances should have warranted further investigation.
The Montreal police service (SPVM) declined APTN’s interview request, citing in an email that they treat all investigations into missing and murdered people equally, regardless if the victim is Indigenous or not.
Qavavauq-Bibeau’s research also collects data on missing Indigenous women, as well as missing and murdered Indigenous men and Indigenous people of other genders. She’s done all this data collection without access to police records.
“Passing by the traditional way, by police stations, is a really long and difficult process, and it’s often, like we don’t have much answers, so I had to get creative,” she said.
Qavavauq-Bibeau has used archival research, through old newspapers and publications, and listened to the stories of family members of the deceased. She also checks in with Indigenous communities to verify if a murdered woman from the past is Indigenous when she recognizes a last name that’s common in a community.
Qavavauq-Bibeau has also included what she called “systemic deaths” in her case counts, like Joyce Echaquan, who filmed health care workers saying racist remarks while she died, uncared for, in hospital.
“The Legault government doesn’t even want to admit to systemic racism, and it’s really a problem.
Like Joyce Echaquan is not a particular case. This is something that happens more frequently than we think it’s just that clients don’t necessarily have a phone to film,” she said.
Her numbers from 1980-2012 include two systemic deaths.
She also answered Iskweu’s hotline and accompanied Indigenous people in Quebec with their dealings with police.
She picked up the phone, asked the name of the missing person, and how long they’ve been missing. Once she has all the information she contacts a police liaison at the SPVM to get the ball rolling on the investigation.
Qavavauq-Bibeau has helped Indigenous people outside of Quebec with the RCMP after they called Iskwe’s hotline.
“They don’t have funding for Iskweu projects in their provinces, so it’s something that is needed everywhere in Canada,” she said.
Money for Qavavauq-Bibeau’s position is provided by an undisclosed private foundation and her coworker Jennifer is funded by Justice Canada.
Quebec’s new action plan for Indigenous social well-being purportedly prioritizes Indigenous women’s safety, but Qavavauq-Bibeau said she has not been contacted by the province to collaborate on this issue. But she said she’s willing to collaborate.
“I’m kind of hopeful of that, because the difference is that [Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière] went to every Indigenous community, and I don’t think that approach has been done,” she said.
Note: A previous version of this article stated that the RCMP’s 2012 report represented the latest data for the province, and that there was no provincial breakdown for murders of Indigenous women. That has been corrected to state that a data breakdown by province is available by using the customize table tool on StatsCan’s website.