Disappearances in Canada – Criminal Acts or a Deeper Societal Issue?

The issue of disappearances and murders of First Nation women in Canada has been gaining an increasing amount of media attention. The exact number of missing and murdered aboriginal women is not known. Some media investigations have suggested that over the past 30 years more than 1,200 women have gone missing in Canada. [1] Amnesty International reported in May that according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at least 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012, four and a half times the homicide rate for all other women.[2] In its June 2015 updated report, the RCMP stated that “while aboriginal women represent just 4.3 percent of Canada’s female population, they represent 16 percent of female homicide victims and 11 percent of missing persons cases involving women.” [3] The RCMP states that the violence is often perpetrated by members of the same community, and it says the solution rate for homicides of aboriginal women is 88 percent, little different from the 89 percent solution rate for homicides involving non-native women.

While government authorities have insisted that these cases should be treated as crimes, many attribute the causes to deeper societal issue. Public Safety Canada produced a report in late 2014 showing how aboriginal women are lured into the sex trade by pimps, gangs or even members of their own families.[4] According to the report, aboriginal women and girls are easy prey for human traffickers because they are more likely to suffer from poverty and drug addiction.[5]  Kazia Pickard, Director of Policy and Research with the Ontario Native Women’s Association, notes that “people assume that trafficking always takes place across international borders, however, the vast majority of people who are trafficked in Canada are indigenous women and girls from inside Canada and sometimes, as we’re now starting to understand, across the US border.” [6]

It is important to note the mix of cause and effect involved in these disappearances – sex slavery, prostitution, human trafficking – which highlights the need for a cooperative institutional approach to address this issue.

However, the most critical element in addressing the issue of crimes against and disappearances of aboriginal populations may be the willingness of the authorities to accept that these cases are a signal of a deeper societal issue and that there must be a systematic and institutional approach to resolving the problem. Civil society has been demanding an inquiry into the issue, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has argued that there have been enough studies and the issue should be addressed as a criminal matter.

Meanwhile, the murders and disappearances continue. On 19 August 2015 the body of 19-year old Delores Brown was found floating near the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. She had been missing since 27 July 2015.[7]


[1] http://bit.ly/1EZ61z9

[2] http://bit.ly/1GIuRVd

[3] http://bit.ly/1MN9UxF


[5] http://bit.ly/1MMtlGX

[6] http://bit.ly/1oGt0pW

[7] http://bit.ly/1JxFY7D