CANADA’S DISPOSED DAUGHTERS
On February 14 this year the annual Memorial March for Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women in Orillia, Canada was organized by Gladys Radek. She held a picture of her niece Tamara Chipman close to her heart as she led a march of hundreds through the streets of Orillia. Tamara Chipman went missing on Highway 16 in northern British Columbia in 2005.
Chipman is just one among the 580 missing Aboriginal women reported by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. However, this figure is just an estimation since the inconsistency and disparity in the police and government reporting indicates a much higher number. One of early cases that reflect the sexist and racist approach of the State in addressing violence against Aboriginal women is the murder of Helen Betty Osborne in 1971 who was brutally gang-raped, beaten and murdered on her refusal to grant sexual favors to non-indigenous men. The police chose to overlook the obvious hints that pointed towards the four men as perpetrators of the crime and did not search the vehicle that was used to commit the crime until a year later in 1972. It took Manitoba Justice Inquiry Commission 20 years to conclude that the sexual assault and murder were a case of sexism and racism.
This march dates back to the Women’s Memorial March which was initiated by First Nations Women in 1991 after another woman was found dismembered and murdered on the Powell Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Along with hundreds of protestors in the February 14 march, quite noticeable was Radek’s van named by her as War Pony-which is covered by the pictures of missing and murdered women. The van has always been there on February 14 marches for many years now to honour the missing and murdered girls. “Every day we hear a new story, a new injustice,” Radek said. “Our demands have long been very clear: for justice, closure and equality. We need our truth out there, and we needed it to have a punch—a dose of reality.”
Thus February 14 every year marks a contrast to the Canadian State’s reputation as defenders of human rights. Canada is known to have been vocal about human rights issues both within the state and abroad. While the inability or precisely, the insensitivity of the state to address the issue is overlooked as an administrative lacuna, it is an issue of government’s lack of interest in the issues relating to its indigenous population which is deeply rooted in racist and sexist stereotyping.
In Canada, race is a barrier in providing basic necessities of life such as housing, jobs, access to justice, health and education to Aboriginal people in general and their women in particular. The Aboriginal women in Canada are living in gross poverty, they are subject to racial and gender discrimination on their search for housing and are vulnerable to abuse by landlords. These acts of marginalisation and exclusion keep around 40% of indigenous women in poverty. Even Canada’s law and justice system fails to provide them basic security. Human Rights Watch reports show that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia do not adequately protect indigenous women and girls from violence. Furthermore, they are subject to racism in courts. Aboriginal women account for 20% of female prison population and merely 2% of female population in Canada.
Hence, Aboriginal women in Canada are not subject to gender-based violence alone, being women who are members of a different race and ethnicity increases their vulnerability to be subjected to sexual assault due to racialised sexism. Racial stereotyping allows for these women to be sexualised in certain ways, as for example, women of Asian origin are viewed as tempting and compliant while black women are viewed as highly sexualised and available.
Canada’s rejection on calls by United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other States to set up a National Inquiry to review the violence against Aboriginal women persists. In response to the criticism raised at Canada’s inadequate policies in addressing the issues pertaining to Aboriginal women, Canada’s ambassador to UN in Geneva in September 2013, Elissa Goldberg’s blatant denial was summed up in a hypocritical one-sentence response, “Canada is proud of its human-rights record, and our peaceful and diverse society.”
Thus, Golberg’s statement echoes the one policy that the Canadian State has adopted towards its Aboriginal women who have lived for the past 10,000 years in the country and have participated in nation-building- to remain in denial of their existence, probably view them as lesser humans by denying them their very basic rights that are enjoyed by rest of us by virtue of being human.