By: The Globe And Mail – Published, Nov. 23, 2015
This story is part of an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada
What’s this project about?
Indigenous women suffer elevated rates of violence. Statistics Canada has found that they are more than three times as likely as non-aboriginals to be victims of violent crime. They are far more likely to report encountering the most extreme forms of violence, such as sexual assault or having a gun used against them. And they are far more likely to go missing or die violently.
Indigenous women in Canada are roughly seven times more likely than non-indigenous women to be slain by serial killers, a Globe analysis has found
What causes this? Recent comments from the former federal Conservative government and RCMP emphasized the central role of family violence. While it is undeniable that aboriginal women endure higher rates of domestic violence, there is more to the story.
Previous research has linked elevated violence to poverty and marginalization, intergenerational trauma and family breakdowns resulting from the colonial legacy and residential schools, addiction and other issues.
Hoping to better understand the over-representation of indigenous people among Canada’s missing and murdered women, The Globe and Mail is compiling a database of relevant cases.
When we first began studying homicides in our database, one thing that jumped out was the large number of cases attributed to a handful of serial offenders, such as Robert Pickton, John Crawford and Cody Legebokoff. Upon deeper analysis of serial-homicide data, we found that indigenous women were overrepresented among the victims of serial killers in Canada.
We decided to create an immersive multimedia feature that explores some of the common themes that emerged from our analysis, by recounting the lives of five women who died at the hands of different Canadian serial killers. We believe their stories illuminate some of the social forces that contributed to their vulnerability to some of Canada’s most dangerous men.
How did The Globe acquire this data?
In late 2014, the Native Women’s Association of Canada provided The Globe with data collected during its Sisters in Spirit initiative. We obtained further data from Maryanne Pearce, who extensively researched this issue while completing her doctorate in laws degree at the University of Ottawa. We acknowledge their work and are grateful for their assistance. The Globe merged these two data sources and is dedicating considerable effort to verifying, expanding and understanding them. This process is continuing, and often involves acquiring further information from families of victims. We recognize this can be difficult for families, and deeply appreciate their co-operation.
We also acquired data about victims of Canadian serial killers from Mike Aamodt, a professor emeritus in the psychology department of Radford University in Virginia. Over more than two decades, he has compiled what he describes as the largest non-governmental serial-killer database in the world. He provided us with a subset containing data on serial homicide victims of both genders and all ethnicities in Canada. We corrected some entries to reflect information in our possession, but left this data mostly unmodified. We thank him for his generosity.
What are the limitations of The Globe’s data?
There are many, but several are particularly significant. We do not have a complete census of all homicides or disappearances involving aboriginal women in Canada. One reason is that most of the cases we know about have come to our attention through news reports. (Our attempts to obtain official data from government and law enforcement, which would likely be more comprehensive, have been unsuccessful to date.) There are many reasons why a homicide may not receive news coverage, and thus be excluded in these databases. Moreover, electronic news databases are creatures of the past several decades; we suspect our database work is reasonably comprehensive for the years since 2000, but likely misses more cases as we move further back in time. We therefore cannot draw reliable conclusions about how the situation has evolved over time.
Our database contains many fields. It is not uncommon to find conflicting information on basic details such as the age or ethnicity of a victim or offender, for instance, and sorting all this out can sometimes be challenging. We have made a considerable effort to verify and correct entries, and this work continues.
We focused on vetting our database’s cases involving confirmed and speculative serial killers to try to ensure the women were indigenous and also that they were either killed unlawfully or still missing. The Globe conducted many dozens of interviews with victims’ families, lawyers, law-enforcement officials, authors, researchers and indigenous organizations. We obtained court transcripts and exhibits, including some requiring a judge’s permission. We pored over inquiry reports and news stories. We conducted reporting on the ground in Manitoba and British Columbia.
What’s the basis for The Globe’s claim that aboriginal women are overrepresented among the victims of serial killers?
In our ongoing database work, we discovered that of the more than 700 homicide cases we identified dating from 1980, 18 (2.6 per cent) were slain by serial killers who were convicted of the offence. Since many serial homicides are likely never identified as such, the true proportion is probably far higher.
This struck us as unusual, because serial homicide is extremely rare. The FBI estimates it comprises less than 1 per cent of all murders. Full disclosure: Two researchers we spoke with doubted the validity of the FBI estimate. “This figure has been out there for decades,” Enzo Yaksic, co-founder of the Atypical Homicide Research Group, told us, “and nobody can figure out where the source of the original information came from.” When we asked the FBI, Special Agent Ann Todd of the Office of Public Affairs responded that the FBI does not maintain statistics for serial killers. We acknowledge there are concerns with this estimate, but it does seem to square approximately with the situation in Canada. When the total number of serial homicides in Canada from Aamodt’s data since 1980 is compared with Statistics Canada’s total number of homicides for the same period, the average Canadian rate seems to be slightly higher, at 1.14 per cent. We used the FBI’s figure as an informal benchmark.
Our confidence grew once we acquired Aamodt’s data. More striking conclusions can be drawn from it, for the simple reason that it includes victims of all ethnicities. Of the 87 homicides of females for which convictions were obtained against Canadian serial killers, 18 (21 per cent) involved aboriginal victims. Indigenous women represent just 4 per cent of Canada’s female population. Once we incorporated population figures into our calculations, we determined that aboriginal women are roughly seven times more likely to be victims of serial killers than non-aboriginal women.
The true extent of serial predation on aboriginal females in Canada is likely higher. To begin with, consider the cases for which Pickton was never tried but where DNA and women’s belongings, for example, were found on his farm. These cases were not brought to trial, so we do not consider them “confirmed” cases. Aboriginal women and girls also appear frequently among clusters of unsolved disappearances and homicides, such as those in the Edmonton area or along B.C.’s “highway of tears.” When such cases are considered, Aamodt’s database contains 189 female victims of all ethnicities dating from 1980 whose murders he attributes to serial killers. Of those, 53 victims (28 per cent) were identified as aboriginal.