Issues Related to the High Number of Murdered and Missing Women in Canada

>> Sunday, February 6, 2011

Isn't that interesting?

I went looking online for a copy of the report by the Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials Missing Women Working Group - "Issues Related to the High Number of Murdered and Missing Women in Canada" (MMWC) which was published in September 2010. It was - for a bit - available on the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat website - but no more.

A few links of interest remain, however:

So generous - except for the ~minor~ little details that they don't mention - which if one reads - critically - the press release, the above mentioned report - MMWC - in conjunction with any of the research reports provided by the Sisters in Spirit Initiative - jump out relatively quickly.

Things like the fact that while the SIS research is extremely nuanced, and recognizes that the only commonalities between all of the missing & murdered women they are researching is that they are 1. Aboriginal 2. women 3. missing or murdered 4. in Canada. (And they do note concern about non-Aboriginal women, or about Aboriginal women who die or are harmed through other causes, also - but since those are not the subject of this particular research project, they are not included in the research database)

The only commonalities between the people directly responsible for their deaths/disappearances are ...well, none, actually, beyond the fact that they were presumably in Canada long enough to commit crimes here. Offenders are not all male, nor all Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, nor are they all serial offenders.

The report of the MMWC, on the other hand, considers Aboriginal women who are missing or murdered in Canada and who are most often

  • living in poverty
  • homeless, transient, and lacking in social networks
  • addicted to alcohol or drugs
  • involved in sex work or other dangerous practices such as hitchhiking
  • experiencing mental health issues (MWWG 3)

And the offenders about which they are concerned do share a ~few~ commonalities. They are

  • male
  • serial sex offenders
  • predators
  • follow a pattern of repeated abduction, infliction of assault, degredation, torture and murder.

So - we can ~throw out~ all of those women who are not killed by strangers - that's all but approximately 17% of cases where the offenders are known, using the SIS research. We can ~throw out~ all the cases where the women are not involved in sex work (about half of the women about whom enough is known to make this determination). And hey, lets throw out any one-offs, also, because we are only interested in serial offenders.

Another very important difference between the Sisters in Spirit report(s) and the MMWG is that one is very clearly in favour of an approach with attention paid to being both PROACTIVE and REACTIVE strategies to reduce the number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, while the other - in spite of the occassional nod towards the need to prevent these crimes in the first place, is quite clearly concerned to a very large extent with the REACTIVE side of things. Care to guess which organization advocates for which approach? Too easy?

The goals of the MWWG were to:

  • Share information and expertise with personnel across Canada who are responsible for identifying, investigating and prosecuting these cases
  • Develop strategies and proposals that would assist in addressing current barriers that hinder the resolution of cases involving victims of serial predators
  • Promote the development of resources and training to assist personnel who are responsible for handing cases of missing and murdered persons
  • Ensure that the Criminal Code and other relevant federal and provincial legislation provide the best tools for investigating and prosecuting cases of serial killers who target marginalized persons (3)

See any proactive approaches in there? Yeah, me neither. Training and changes to the Criminal Code are all well and good - and one could, I suppose, make an argument that these are proactive - but they are proactive only in the sense that they set up strategies that can be used when "these cases" happen - none of these are proactive in the sense of gee, I dunno, looking for root causes and strategies to ensure that women don't wind up missing or murdered in the first place?

But of course, we are talking about people who are up there in the judicial - and especially policing - system - of course they are focussing on cases - and so they should be. Their work, however, does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that replaces the work of the Sisters in Spirit Iniative's research or victim support work, however.

Absolutely nothing...

And yet Harper & co would have you believe that while the Sisters in Spirit did good work, they are all set to handle it from here.

Even if that were true, I would have a problem with it. We are supposedly living in a post-colonial society.

In a post-colonial society, if a group of Aboriginal peoples have proven themselves capable of researching and working on a problem that impacts on Aboriginal peoples - and motivated to keep doing so - does the state swoop in and take it over? Really?

Honestly, it seems just a ~little~ ... okay ... a LOT... colonial to me. Am I, perhaps, missing something?


Lee-Ann Chyoweh-Pawis - Still Missing?

Awhile ago, on Facebook, I joined a group called Red Circle Alert, which was

formed by (Red Power United - Native Rights Movement) to try and help Native Families and Communities find Missing Friends and Family Members.

I have, over the course of my studies, become increasingly aware of, and concerned about, issues of violence against Aboriginal peoples - and especially women - in Canada. It upsets me. I do share the alerts as they are posted or sent to me by email, and I always hope that the person will be found safely. Some are.

Tyeshia Jones was not. Tyeshia was 18 years old and a member of the Cowichan Tribes. She went missing on 22 Jan. 2011; her body was found less than a week later, and autopsy has since confirmed that she was a victim of homicide. This was not a woman living a dangerous life-style. She had been to a party earlier in the evening, and was walking to a store to meet up with a friend from whom she had become separated. She never made it.

Aboriginal women are far too vulnerable to violence in Canada, especially in our western provinces. Although they make up only 3% of the total female population, they represent approximately 10% of the total number of female homicides. They are, too, 3 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be assaulted or killed by strangers. And clearance rates for murders of Aboriginal women in Canada are lower. In 2010, for example, charges were laid in 53% of cases involving Aboriginal women, compared to 84% of cases involving non-Aboriginal women.

And contrary to popular (mis)conception, not all of the women and girls who are murdered or missing in Canada have anything at all to do with the sex trade. Certainly, women who are involved in that life are at increased risk - and in some provinces, Aborginal women are seriously over-represented - interestingly enough, a very high percentage of these women are women who were removed from their home communities & families (the so-called Sixties Scoop is a misnomer - the practice of scooping is alive and well, and Aboriginal children are hugely over-represented in foster care and facilities for youth) - but before I get off on another tangent ... in cases where such information is known, turns out that only about 50% of missing or murdered women were, in fact, participating in such risk behaviours.... and even if that stat were higher, that would not negate, or mitigate, the problem.

There is a great deal more information available in the Sisters In Spirit Iniative 2010 Research Report. And there's yet another tangent that I have already been off once and will no doubt visit again .... I am so incredibly angry that the Canadian government has cut funding for the Sisters In Spirit Iniative! Here's a quote that just makes my blood boil:
Con MP Shelly Glover, Parliamentary Secretary for Indian and Northern Affairs :

"That project was finished. Don’t mix apples and oranges. That project
was finished, now we’re working with them to pursue other projects."

I have sent my letter off to a number of politicians - for all the good it does. Did get some (inane) responses though... but that's a topic for another tangent post.

Anyway ... I really do need to get back to my reading - next up is the Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials Missing Women Working Group. (2010) “Issues Related to the High Number of Murdered and Missing Women in Canada” ...which I have read enough already to know that I shall be doing some more writing about that too...

but before I shut up, I wanted to tell you what I actually set out to write about today when I first mentioned the Red Circle Alert - and that is a young lady by the name of Lee-Ann Chyoweth-Pawis.

She is missing... has been since June 2005, at which time she was 17 years old. And she went missing from Midland Ontario - a town about 10km from me. I lived here then - how is it that I have never once heard about her disappearance? I read newspapers, watch the news, see posters... lived here then... the fact that I cannot recall hearing a word makes me unhappy.

As far as I can tell, Lee-Ann is still missing: she is listed on several registries of missing persons, but does not come up at all in a search of Google news. It makes me very sad. Tomorrow, I think I will call the contact number and see if they will tell me if she is still missing - if so, will update this blog, and at least submit the info to the Red Circle Alert group.

I wish there was more that I could do....


Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex

>> Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sudbury, Julia. Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex. London: Routledge, 2005. Print.

This is the book that I have been reading this week. I finished the last few chapters today... thank goodness. I am in a miserable enough mood without it. This book just made me more and more angry - or perhaps, furious would be a better word. Hell, no perhaps about it.

The book is a collection of essays and chapters written by academics and activists from around the world and edited by Julia Sudbury. And did I mention it is infuriating? Not the book itself... it is far more accessible on the whole than many other books on my reading list... but it details the incredible (and not in a good way) growth of the prison industry around the world, and highlights the impacts of that on so many people.

I tend to be a ~bit~ of a bleeding heart at the best of times...I feel for the people I read about and sometimes, that just out and out hurts. It seems easy - for some, and certainly for politicians and many in the media - to talk about statistics, without giving a moment's thought to the fact that every one of the people that make up those numbers are PEOPLE.

People, not numbers.

People with hopes, dreams, wants, needs, families, relationships.... or without those things, which is, in many cases, even sadder.
People who, in far, far too many cases, hurt no-one.

It is so damn easy to say that he or she chose to do something illegal and therefore, they deserve what they get. That is what we are supposed to believe in this neoliberal - capitalist - global - harsh society.

Every last one of the men women children in prisons around the world deserves to be there. Every last one of them is guilty, and none of those of us who chose better needs to spare an iota of concern about any of them.

It sickens me.

There are innocents in prisons - in your country and mine and in the others too.

There are people in prison for having the wrong colour skin and/or for being poor and/or for having/lacking a penis and/or for refusing to allow themselves or their children to be abused or even killed and/or for having a mental illness or other disability and/or for needing to eat. Hell, in Nepal, as of 2005, women were still in prison for the 'crime' of having had the misfortune to have miscarriages. The nerve of them!

There are, in fact, an inordinate number of people in prison for these 'crimes'.

And there are altogether too many people who are not in prisons for these crimes because they are dead as a result of their incarceration.

But hey - those people must have chosen to be not white, to be mentally ill, to.... bah! BULLSHIT even.

Why is the prison-industrial complex growing at such a drastic rate? There are several contributing factors - but neoliberal globalization is at the root of most of them. I'll skip the big long explanation of neoliberalism - Wikipedia has it pretty much covered - but the (very) short definition is, in my mind, it's all about the money.

People don't matter any more.... what matters is money... the economy... the bottom line. Less government, more private enterprise (although the less government thing hasn't actually worked out so well in practice; in reality they mean less governmental responsibility, not any actual reductions in government size or spending). In neoliberal ideology, everyone is responsible for their own choices and especially for their own welfare. We're all equal, we all have equal opportunities, blah blah blah ... more pure and utter bullshit, that.

Prisons are not about rehabilitation - and in a neoliberal world, they're not about keeping communities safe either, although that's the line they use to justify them. They are about power and money....with a great big helping of racism thrown in for good measure.

I knew that already - I have done a lot of reading and learning and thinking about the issue since Ashley Smith died.... most of my research to date, though, has been focused on Canadian women in Canadian prisons... with a bit of US ~stuff~ thrown in.

Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex pushed me towards thinking on a much larger scale ....which is good, I guess... but oh so discouraging, also. And oh yeah - infuriating!

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