‘The lives of Indigenous women and girls are important,’ says AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde
By Katie Pedersen, Donna Lee, Holly Moore, CBC News Posted: Jun 29, 2016
Indigenous leaders and advocates say dozens of cases where police determined there was no evidence of foul play must be included in a federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
They were responding to a CBC News investigation that uncovered 34 cases in which families disagreed with official findings that their loved ones’ deaths or disappearances were not suspicious.
“It’s too simple for [police] to say there’s no foul play involved,” says National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations, reacting to the investigation’s findings.
“They should get it that these cases need the proper investigation. The lives of Indigenous women and girls are important — they should not be treated as anything less.”
CBC News analyzed 32 deaths and two disappearances of Indigenous girls and women across Canada, in cases where authorities ruled there was no foul play involved. That investigation revealed:
- Ten had unexplained injuries, though officials maintained those injuries did not contribute to the deaths.
- Seventeen were involved in domestic and family violence, where families insist there was a clear suspect.
- Six were found nude or partially clothed in suspicious or anomalous circumstances.
- In 31 of the cases, a person of interest was identified at some stage either by police or family members.
- In five of the cases, coroner’s or inquest findings appeared to conflict with police determinations.
In 25 of the 34 cases, families say they felt racism and assumptions about the women and their lifestyles hampered the investigation.
Advocate calls for independent body
Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), echoed Bellegarde’s call to include “no foul play” cases in the federal government’s inquiry.
“One of the key driving motivations behind the inquiry from the start was for these families who feel that their loved one’s cases were closed prematurely.”
Lavell-Harvard believes there should be an independent body to handle complaints from families who don’t feel these cases were handled properly.
“If there isn’t an independent oversight and accountability, then these kinds of things can get sloppier,” she said, adding that the cases where families feel the investigation was not thorough should “absolutely” be reopened.
“There are a number of cases that were closed prematurely. Those families deserve better. And those women deserve better.”
The federal government has not yet announced a date for the launch of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It is still unclear whether these “no foul play” cases will be included.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said police forces need to look at the information in the CBC investigation and “they need to really have a look at their processes.”
When asked if she believes the “no foul play” cases will be included in the inquiry, Bennett replied, “I think that patterns of cases as you’ve identified now, where something is deemed to be no foul play, are certainly worthy of an assessment, but again it will be up to the commissioners to determine how they do their work.”
Do you have more information on any of these cases?