Tag Archives: Aboriginal Affairs Minister

RCMP Expected To Release New Report On Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women


By Jorge Barrera | APTN National News

The RCMP is expected to release a new report on murdered and missing Indigenous women Wednesday, according to a spokesperson.

The report will be an update on the federal police force’s work on the file since last year’s release of its National Overview on Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women. That report revealed that 1,181 Indigenous women had been murdered or gone missing since 1980.

RCMP Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said the report was set for release Wednesday afternoon during a press conference.

The update report was originally scheduled for release in May. It is expected to focus on the “next steps” identified in the 2014 initial report. The next steps included a focus on “enhancing efforts on unresolved cases.” Almost half of missing and murdered Indigenous women cases fall under the jurisdiction of provincial or municipal police forces.

The RCMP also said it would be unveiling improvements on how it collects information on murder or missing persons cases which would now include Aboriginal origin as an identifier.

The update report, however, will not include information on the “ethnicity of the perpetrators of solved Aboriginal women homicides.”

Earlier this year, the RCMP said it would release a new report after it became embroiled in a controversy triggered by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt over that issue.

Valcourt said during closed-door meeting with some Alberta chiefs in March that 70 per cent of the perpetrators linked to solved Indigenous women murder cases were also Indigenous.

The Mounties initially refused to back Valcourt, stating it was against RCMP policy to reveal the ethnicity of perpetrators. But as the controversy grew, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson confirmed the 70 per cent statistics in a letter to Treaty 6 Grand Chief Bernice Martial. Paulson said in the April 7 letter that consolidated data from 300 police agencies reviewed by the RCMP supported the statistic.

Paulson also said that in the cases of solved murders of Indigenous women, 25 per cent of the perpetrators were non-Indigenous and five per cent were of an unknown ethnicity.

Paulson, however, did not reveal any regional breakdowns or provide any information on what percentage of cases stemmed from cities versus on reserves.




True Crimes, Faulty Statistics And Aboriginal Women

The Canadian Press - Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt (left) and Minister of Status of Women Kellie Leitch speak to reporters at a separate press conference following the National Roundtable for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The Canadian Press – Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt (left) and Minister of Status of Women Kellie Leitch speak to reporters at a separate press conference following the National Roundtable for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

By Colby Cosh | Maclean’s

How the heck did Bernard Valcourt get himself into a fix like this? In a March 20 closed-door meeting with a group of western First Nations band and region chiefs, the federal Aboriginal affairs minister apparently got defensive when the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women came up. Valcourt pointed out that an estimated 70 per cent of murders of indigenous women are perpetrated by indigenous men.

The chiefs knew that there was no such finding in the RCMP’s “operational overview” of the topic issued last year. It was, indeed, a noticeable gap in the report. The RCMP had strongly disavowed any ability or desire to make factual assertions about the racial demographics of a subset of murderers. So the chiefs very understandably asked Valcourt where this number had come from, and the minister was left babbling that he would come up with something. Whatever goodwill had been present in the room was gone.

A cynic would say Valcourt had committed a breach of the delicate manners that prevail in face-to-face talks between a minister and the leadership of his clientele. It would be equally valid to say he had failed to show sufficient respect. “Manners” and “showing respect” are two names for the same thing, and it is a thing that cannot be shrugged off by a federal minister of Aboriginal affairs.

Valcourt has since obtained a letter from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson saying that, yes, there are RCMP data “confirming” the 70 per cent figure. Predictably, that hasn’t cooled the controversy: it has only inflamed it.

When the RCMP released its original report on violence against indigenous women, it let the data do the talking. That was both salutary and, from a public relations standpoint, effective. We learned that there is a surprisingly high number of genuinely missing Aboriginal women, few of whom can have disappeared voluntarily. We learned that fatal violence against indigenous women is declining, though not quite as fast as in the rest of the population. The police were careful to note that they solve homicides of Aboriginal women just as often as they do those of other women.

The interpretation of all that information was bound to be contentious. The special problem of “missing and murdered Aboriginal women” does not seem to exist, if by that phrase you mean a statistical interaction that goes beyond Aboriginal-ness and female-ness. The overall risk to Aboriginal women is about what you would infer from just combining the (very high) general Aboriginal exposure to lethal violence with the (much reduced) general female exposure to it. No third, additional element of risk is apparent in the numbers: over the 1980-2012 period covered in the RCMP report, for example, StatsCan estimates that 14 per cent of all female murder victims were Aboriginal, but 17 per cent of male murder victims were.

The lack of a statistical smoking gun makes an emotional debate more complicated—but at least with the original RCMP report, Canadians, Aboriginal and non-, were exposed to the numbers in a properly documented and footnoted form first. Now the government has introduced new data in a discouragingly improvisational way, without the details of how the 70 per cent number for Aboriginal offenders was arrived at.

Some, like Aboriginal law professor Pamela Palmater, are opportunistically nitpicking at the number—and they have every right to to that, as long as the methodology and the accuracy of the figure are undocumented unknowns. It’s not really even a question of right. There is just no way for anyone to answer those critics, aside from waving Paulson’s letter around.

But other Aboriginal leaders are asking: if the figure is accurate and robust, and if it implies that Aboriginal men have a special responsibility to act on this issue, why did they have to find out from an offhand remark in a meeting? Why did the RCMP pretend not to concern themselves with the identities of perpetrators, then change their minds?

The 70 per cent estimate may turn out to be in the neighbourhood of the truth—the “offender-to-victim relationship” stats for female homicide victims in the original RCMP report suggest that it might not be far off. But there is not much to be made of that number in isolation—is it high? Low? What percentage would be “too” high? The operational overview established that homicides of Aboriginal women aren’t committed disproportionately by strangers, so we already knew that protecting those women isn’t a matter of breaking up some racial conspiracy or spree-killing gang. Would that it were so simple.


PM Harper Failing To Fulfill Mulroney’s Oka Promise On Modern Treaties

(Mohawks from Kahnawake battle with Canadian soldiers during the 1990 Oka crisis. File/photo)

(Mohawks from Kahnawake battle with Canadian soldiers during the 1990 Oka crisis. File/photo)

By APTN National News

As the smoke was clearing from the 1990 Oka Crisis, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney wrote to the premiers of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon about the long, hot summer saying his government would be responding to the demands of “Aboriginal people” in four parts.

At the top of the list was “resolving land claims.”

Mulroney assured the two premiers the issue would receive Ottawa’s full attention.

“The federal government is determined to create a new relationship among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians based on dignity, trust and respect,” wrote Mulroney to former NWT premier Dennis Patterson and former Yukon Premier Tony Penikett in near-identical letters dated Nov. 15, 1990.

The other issues on the list included, “defining a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and governments,” also “improving the economic and social conditions on reserves” and “addressing the concerns of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples in contemporary Canadian life.”

Throughout the summer-long crisis in Kanesatake and Kahnawake which spread across the country, the issue of comprehensive claims, or modern treaties, continued to crop up as a major irritant from the First Nation side. Pundits and First Nation representatives who appeared on CBC, CTV and other local cable newscasts repeatedly mentioned the need for Ottawa to overhaul its approach to comprehensive claims. APTN did not exist at the time.

In response, after the guns, tanks and helicopters faded from television screens, Mulroney began an overhaul of the land claim system. First, he eliminated the six-claim cap on the number of negotiations Ottawa would deal with at any one time. In 1992, the British Columbia-specific treaty table was created and in 1993 former Progressive Conservative Indian affairs minister Tom Siddon unveiled an overhaul of Ottawa’s comprehensive claim and specific claims policies.

The Letters

Click on letter to open

Click To Open Letters

Since then, only four B.C. modern treaties have been settled while First Nations involved in the process have amassed about $500 million worth in loans from the federal government to pay for negotiations. As of January 2013, Canada has issued $1 billion in loans and non-repayable contributions to First Nation groups involved in claims talks which can take up to three decades to reach a final agreement.

It’s also emerged that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet has stalled three modern treaty negotiations for two years.

As it nears the end of its first majority mandate and its ninth year in power, the Harper government is only now beginning to address the issue of comprehensive land claims and folding it into a process named to imply a redefinition of Ottawa’s relationship with its Indigenous nations.

It’s called the “reconciliation framework” and it was first mentioned by Ottawa in a statement issued by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office last Thursday in response to the release of a report by former federal negotiator Douglas Eyford.

Eyford was appointed last July by Valcourt to meet with dozens of First Nations across the country on improving Ottawa’s comprehensive land claims policy. As his report points out, Eyford travelled well tilled soil. The federal comprehensive claims policy has been updated three times since its 1973 creation. There have also been eight studies or reports on the issue since 1983, including a 2006 report from the federal Auditor General and two Senate reports, in 2008 and 2012.

“Many of the issues I have considered are neither new nor unforeseen. The observations, findings, and recommendations of these reports remain relevant and compelling despite the passage of time, legal developments, and changes in policy having placed some of the issues in a different context,” said Eyford, in the report.

Comprehensive claims encompass territorial claims, self-government and Aboriginal rights. They are negotiated in areas not covered by so-called “surrender” treaties or numbered treaties. The majority of these claims stem from British Columbia, the North, parts of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Specific claims generally stem from historical grievances over loss of land or the misuse of monies held in trust by Ottawa.

Eyford’s report also mentions a “reconciliation framework” and issues recommendations on its possible creation.

“Canada’s commitment to reconciliation should be reflected in a new framework that: continues to support modern treaty negotiations, but addresses institutional barriers…provides a rights-informed approach to treaty-making,” said the report. “(It should also offer) other reconciliation arrangements for Aboriginal groups that are not interested in negotiating a comprehensive land claims agreement…and improves the implementation of modern treaties and other agreements with Aboriginal groups.”

Valcourt’s office is saying little about its own vision for this new framework aside from sending links to the department’s interim comprehensive claims policy which was widely panned by First Nation groups.

In an emailed statement, Valcourt’s office said the reconciliation framework is simply the renamed “framework for addressing Section 35 Aboriginal Rights.” The minister also has no plans to roll anything out soon.

“This framework will be developed incrementally and through dialogue with partners,” said the statement. “Over the coming months, we will engage with Aboriginal groups as well as other stakeholders, including those who provided input during the engagement meetings (with Eyford), in order to seek their feedback on those recommendations.”

Valcourt’s framework plans, however, are getting a lukewarm response from the Assembly of First Nations.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Valcourt needed to open direct discussions with First Nations on the issue.

“Any work on a ‘reconciliation framework’ needs to be discussed directly with First Nations,” said Bellegarde. “We are concerned that this government is relying too much on ministerial special representatives and other agents when the federal government has a duty to engage directly with First Nations.”

It all seems a far cry from what was promised following the Oka crisis by the Mulroney government of which Valcourt was once a part.

“I have great respect for the peaceful and patient manner in which most chiefs, elders and Aboriginal people have expressed their grievances and my government will continue to work with these individuals to find appropriate measures to respond to the needs and concerns of Aboriginal people,” said the letters, which Mulroney signed. “These grievances raise issues that deeply affect all Canadians and therefore must be resolved by all Canadians working together.”

According to a memo sent to Mulroney with draft responses to the two premiers, the letters “were developed in consultation with the Department of Indian Affairs.”

The Memo

Click To Open Memo

Click To Open Memo

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A Roundtable Laden With Emotion And Suspicion: Tim Harper

Dr. Dawn Harvard, right, of the Native Women's Association of Canada, with Claudette Dumont-Smith, also of the NWAC, says Friday's roundtable has to be seen as a start to a better relationship. “If not this meeting and this minister, maybe the next one." she said Thursday.

Dr. Dawn Harvard, right, of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, with Claudette Dumont-Smith, also of the NWAC, says Friday’s roundtable has to be seen as a start to a better relationship. “If not this meeting and this minister, maybe the next one.” she said Thursday.

By: Tim Harper | Toronto Star

Compromise will be tough, but Ottawa, the provinces and aboriginal leadership must bring down the temperature at Friday meeting.

OTTAWA—It’s going to be awfully crowded in a downtown hotel ballroom here Friday.

Emotion and frustration. Suspicion and ill will. All sitting cheek by jowl.

For the first time since a shocking RCMP report revealed 1,181 indigenous women and girls had been murdered or gone missing between 1980 and 2012, federal ministers will sit down with provincial premiers and ministers and aboriginal leaders to seek progress on ending violence against aboriginal women.

Room for compromise appears slim. And just in time for the meeting comes a new irritant — aboriginal belief that they will be targeted for legitimate protest under the Conservatives’ anti-terror bill.

But aboriginal leaders will go into the room knowing they have forged a consensus among provincial and territorial leaders and realizing that if they chose anything but optimism in advance of the meeting, the federal government would have already won.

You have to have hope, they say.

Yet something positive, something concrete, has to come out of seven hours of meetings — actually just about 5 1/2 hours of formal talks — and that is a tall order.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper again dismissed calls for a national inquiry Thursday, labelling it “more NDP study.’’

His two representatives inside the room, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, will not be swayed from that line.

This government has rejected any sociological phenomenon at play here. For them it is a matter of law and order. Catch the bad guys and make them pay for their crimes.

It is spending $5 million per year over five years as part of an action plan to address violence against indigenous women.

In this case, they are right, wrong and significant dollars short.

This issue has been studied to death, as confirmed by a report released Thursday by theLegal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women, which looked at more than 700 recommendations from 58 studies over 20 years.

Forty of the studies were federal studies and have been cited by Harper ministers as evidence a national inquiry is not needed.

But the study shows only a handful of the 700 recommendations have ever been acted upon and its authors argue a national inquiry is needed to understand the barriers to implementing any of those recommendations.

There are common themes through the mountain of studies — a lack of access to education and employment opportunities resulting in high levels of poverty. Indigenous women experience disproportionately high rates of food insecurity, overcrowded housing, and homelessness. High instances of family breakdown, and the intervention of the child welfare system make them more vulnerable.

The government spending on its “action plan” is pocket change compared to its self-promotion budget. Canadian Heritage alone spent more promoting Canada’s 150th birthday last year than the government spent on countering aboriginal violence.

There is a real danger the federal government could use Friday’s meeting as a stage to sell its program and walk away, saying it had engaged in the dialogue aboriginals had so eagerly sought.

But that won’t happen, says Dr. Dawn Harvard, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Nobody else at the table is buying.

“There is a commitment, and that won’t change, regardless of any soap boxing from the feds,’’ she says.

“Been there, done that. Heard it before.’’

So, how to get past the impasse, the mutual suspicion that has given us Idle No More, killed a federal move on native education, cost Shawn Atleo his job as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, led to challenges of vital federal infrastructure programs and predictably fuelled the belief that Bill C-51 will target aboriginals?

There will have to be a nod from Valcourt and Leitch that they can do more. There has to be a move toward a more co-ordinated approach from Ottawa, the provinces and the aboriginal leadership and an acknowledgement from that leadership that they, too, can do more, to try to stem this at the source.

Aboriginal leaders should commit to try to increase the abysmal voting rate of indigenous Canadians. If they don’t vote, they can’t effect change.

This government will not bend on a national inquiry. It may have only months to go and there will be a more conciliatory approach from a different government.

But Friday, they are all talking. It has to be seen as a start to a better relationship. As Harvard put it: “If not this meeting and this minister, maybe the next one.’’

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. tharper@thestar.ca Twitter:@nutgraf1

Tears flowed as families of missing, murdered forced to select roundtable delegates


OTTAWA—Tears flowed and old pain surfaced Thursday as the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women were forced to select their representatives for a roundtable Friday with federal and provincial politicians.

The process left many family members shaken, said C.J Julian, sister of Norma George who was one of serial-killer Robert Pickton’s victims.

“I just think what they did was re-victimize the families by picking four ceremonial witnesses for the national roundtable. It felt like we had to go against each other… I saw a lot of people walk away with heavy hearts,” said Julian. “It was like we all went against each other. It was like lateral violence. We had to pick looking at each other.”

The families of the murdered and missing were told they could only pick four people to attend the national roundtable. The were told to pick delegates representing the four directions: North, South, East and West.

Julian was not one of the delegates selected to attend the roundtable which will be held at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Ottawa. She will be part of a parallel gathering for families and the public at Carleton University.

Friday’s roundtable meeting will be chaired by Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod and attended by provincial leaders, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn.

Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch are scheduled to attend Friday’s meeting.

Representatives from Indigenous organizations will also attend the roundtable, which will be closed to the public.

Families gathered Thursday at the Delta Hotel to select their delegates for Friday’s meeting.

Some of the family members wept after realizing they would not get a chance to share their voice and pain at the national roundtable.

The frustration boiled over a times.

Miriam Saunders, the Inuk mother of Loretta Saunders, 26, who was murdered in Halifax last year, was upset over the event’s organization and was seen in a heated argument with Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.

A visibly upset Miriam Saunders, who wasn’t invited by the Nova Scotia organization, said she was frustrated and confused over which region she fit into.

Bev Jacobs, who is from Six Nations and a former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, was picked as one of the delegates.

Jacobs said each of the representatives would only be able to speak for four minutes at the roundtable. She said she would reflect the pain and tears from the family members at Thursday’s meeting.

“I’m going to share their pain. I’m going to tell them what I am seeing right now,” said Jacobs. “I’m going to share their voice.”

Jacobs said she was against the roundtable from the beginning arguing it would just hurt families again.

“I’m disappointed in the process. I don’t know who designed it, but it’s not respectful of the families,” she said.

Jacobs said she’s like to see a Royal Commission.

The other delegates selected to represent the families at the roundtable included: Judy Maas, from Blueberry River in British Columbia, whose sister Cynthia Mass was killed in 2010 in Prince George, B.C.; Darlene Osborne, from Norway House Cree Nation, Man., and the cousin of Helen Betty Osborne who was kidnapped and murdered in The Pas, Man., in 1971; Diane Lilley, whose 21-year-old sister Cindy Burk was murdered along the Highway of Tears in 1990.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is personally against a public inquiry and has told two successive Assembly of First Nations national chiefs he won’t be calling one.