COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — May 2, 2014

Jessica Iron Joseph
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I wondered why we still haven’t had a Missing and Murdered Women inquiry in Canada, but imagined that some resistance might stem from a lack of knowledge.

So I asked Andréa Ledding, a brilliant writer and friend, to answer some very tough questions, to combat attitudes that might be preventing an inquiry. Admittedly, they are confrontational, contradictory and shocking questions, which in no way reflect how I feel, but were deliberately constructed to address the silence and inaction that currently exist. Andréa fearlessly indulged me and handled the questions with dignity and grace.


JI: What's the point of an inquiry? Really? Tell me how it will help?

AL: It's only a starting point. People who are deeply concerned about this issue also say, “The government (or public) doesn’t seem to care, so why does it matter? Even if they have an inquiry what will change!?” But an inquiry can at least ACKNOWLEDGE the issue of murdered and missing (women, girls, even some males) as a starting point, and bring about AWARENESS, and — ideally — a will to TAKE ACTION on this issue. Maybe it will even send a message to those doing the “disappearing” through violence, or apathy, that the country is taking this seriously and plans to make it stop. 

No inquiry means even less action! 


JI: That sounds awfully expensive, like a waste of my tax dollars. Isn't there a better use of my money?

AL: Shouldn’t we save lives with tax dollars? Is saving a life, ever a waste of money? If you are saying yes, it’s hard to continue this conversation. Not only should we save lives, we should honour and respect those gone — particularly when they have left not by natural causes, but by targeted, racialized, genderized, socially-supported, structural and endemic, violence and societal neglect. And we should work to prevent it from continuing to happen. Tax dollars are supposed to be used wisely to make everything work better. There are huge tax waste issues, it seems apparent if you read the news lately, but not on vital efforts like this! Wouldn’t you prefer the government spend your tax money on citizen’s and society’s well-being and even SURVIVAL, rather than waste it on padded public and personal expense accounts, or giant prisons?


JI: But really, what did these women do to deserve their circumstances? It seems if they lived a risky lifestyle, they died in a risky way too. Why reward that risky behaviour?

AL: Nobody is born wanting to live high-risk lifestyles or die to violence. But because of society’s current structure, certain groups are at higher risks through no fault of their own. This needs to change. 

Why don’t we focus our attention on what chronic societal or systemic problems are causing the circumstances that make targets of violence (or high-risk lives) so susceptible? And why don’t we look at the people that are committing the crimes against the vulnerable?  These women have paid the ultimate price for society’s failure: their lives.


JI: It’s not always Aboriginal women who get murdered or go missing, so why is it always Aboriginal groups pushing for a Missing & Murdered Women inquiry?

AL: Well for one thing, Aboriginal women are gigantically and disproportionately part of the women being murdered or disappearing. While Aboriginal women make up only a small percentage of Canadian society now, they make up a very large percentage of the missing/murdered cases. They are several times more likely to experience abuse in their lifetimes, even if they die of natural causes which is also far less likely. Because of the colonial process, and policies/attitudes/history/systemic racism (Aboriginal women used to make up 100% of the females on this continent not so very long ago, instead of the small percentage they are now!) — Aboriginal women are bearing the brunt of the violence. 

But Aboriginal groups are looking to stop all the disappearances and violence, regardless of gender or nationality. And many others have joined in: "The number of women in the Ottawa area is the same number of native women in Canada," NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said at a rally on Parliament Hill. "If you heard that 600 women were murdered or missing in Ottawa do you think we'd have to have demonstrations to get an inquiry?" 

(And his number of 600 is low, actual statistics show it to be over 800 that have been reported with many more still uncounted.)


JI: Ok, fine. So we have an inquiry. How is this supposed to work anyway? Explain to me just how this process works, right down to the nitty gritty.

AL: The families of the missing and murdered should be included in the process, which includes the inquiry setup and the nitty-gritty. Groups like the Native Women’s Association of Canada would be another place to consult on process. And it should have a follow-up/action plan with accountability.

Inquiries have a format which is followed, as in the case of the Starlight tours (where Aboriginal men were being driven out of town in winter and left to walk back, and Neil Stonechild froze to death.) The inquiries led to changes being made, and awareness spreading, and slow but sure improvements.

The inquiry can target the experiences of these women and their families and communities, and come up with an action plan while providing education to society-at-large, sending a message to would-be murderers and abusers that their actions will not be tolerated, and most importantly, honouring and respecting those gone and those left behind. 

The exact process isn’t as important as the result, and the message being sent that “our women are valued, loved, and respected.” And consulting those with the highest stakes, would also be a welcomed move.


JI:  Suppose we have an inquiry and spend all this money and it changes nothing. Women still go missing and die. Then what? How will all that work & spent money help anything?

AL:  At least we tried to do something. And maybe it will prevent more deaths if we just “shine a light” — our actions, or our inactions, always count for something. If nothing else, it will send a message to those committing the violence that the public is now aware, and is condemning it, and there may be some kind of consequence for their crimes.

This issue is worth looking for solutions, because what price can be put on life? NOBODY IS DISPOSABLE. 

And if that is the only message we send, it is a worthy one. 

JI: Thank you, Andréa! Hopefully, this column makes its way to the right people, helping bring about change and answers–an inquiry; and ultimately saving lives!


Jessica Iron Joseph is a Prince Albert freelance writer. Her column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Sharon Thomas, Lori Q. McGavin and Kevin Joseph.

Organizations: Native Women, Association of Canada, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa

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