APTN National News
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says Indigenous perpetrators are responsible for 70 per cent of the solved murders of Indigenous women, according to a letter distributed to various media outlets by Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch’s office.
The letter represents a substantial shift from the RCMP which has previously stated, because of its “bias-free policing policy,” it would not be revealing data on the ethnicity of perpetrators from its project on murdered and missing Indigenous women.
The move reduces the political heat faced by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt who first mentioned the statistic during a closed-door meeting with chiefs late last month and immediately faced controversy.
In the April 7-dated letter to Treaty 6 Grand Chief Bernice Martial, Paulson wrote that “consolidated data” from about 300 police agencies reviewed by the RCMP supported the 70 per cent statistic. It also showed that, in the cases of solved murders of Indigenous women, 25 per cent of the perpetrators were non-Indigenous and five per cent were of unknown ethnicity.
“It is not the ethnicity of the offender that is relevant, but rather the relationship between victim and offender that guides our focus with respect to prevention,” wrote Paulson.
Paulson said the RCMP believes releasing information around ethnicity could do more harm than good.
“Public discourse on the ethnicity of the offender has the potential to stigmatize and marginalize vulnerable populations,” said the letter. “Female homicide across all ethnicities is inextricably linked to familial and spousal violence; it is for this reason that RCMP analysis and prevention efforts have focused on the relationship between the victim and offenders.”
Paulson’s letter does not provide any information on regional breakdowns of solved murders of Indigenous women or whether they primarily happen on or off-reserve.
The letter is in response to an earlier letter from Martial who wrote Paulson requesting the RCMP reveal the data used by Valcourt during a closed-door meeting in Calgary at the end of March. During the meeting, Valcourt mentioned the 70 per cent statistic, which surprised some of the chiefs at the meeting. Martial immediately demanded the minister reveal where the number came from.
“As you note, the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, has stated that 70 per cent of the offenders in these cases are Aboriginal,” wrote Paulson.
Martial said she received the letter in an email Thursday morning but hadn’t yet read it because she has been on the road. When APTN read her the section on the 70 per cent statistic, she expressed shock.
“Oh my gosh, how can this be right? They just want to make it right,” she said. “I will just read it through myself and go from there.”
After the RCMP refused to initially publicly back the minister on the statistic, Valcourt faced calls for his resignation from chiefs and repeated attacks in the House of Commons from the NDP on the issue. The minister never repeated the statistic in any of his responses during question period.
The RCMP announced last week it would be releasing a second report in May on murdered and missing Indigenous women. The federal police force released a report last spring that found there were 1,181 cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women dating back to 1980. The RCMP gathered information from about 300 police agencies and Statistics Canada.
Paulson said in the letter that the federal force could not release all the data it has collected as part of its project. Paulson said the RCMP is “not the sole proprietor of this information” because at some of it comes from outside police forces.
The RCMP also signed a confidentially agreement with Statistics Canada that prevents the federal police force from releasing “sensitive statistical information.”
Under the agreement, the RCMP agreed to only use the information for research purposes accessible only by RCMP employees.
Leitch’s office also issued a statement in conjunction with the letter.
“We all have a role to play in protecting Aboriginal women and girls. Our government has taken strong action to address the broader challenges facing Aboriginal women and girls,” said the statement. “Since 2006 we have been proud to introduce over 30 new justice and public safety measures to keep Canadian families safe.”
NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Niki Ashton said the Harper government continues to blame First Nation people for the violence faced by Indigenous women.
“Instead of taking a hard look at how they have marginalized Indigenous women and their communities,” said Ashton. “The release of figures without the data to back it up is always problematic.”
The RCMP could not be reached for comment.
The Assembly of First Nations was carbon copied on the letter, along with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and Valcourt’s office.