APTN National News
The Grand Chief of Treaty 6 in Alberta is calling for an independent investigator to review the RCMP’s data on murdered and missing Indigenous women in response to a decision by the Mounties to back a claim by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt that Indigenous perpetrators are responsible for 70 per cent of the solved murders of Indigenous women.
During a press conference in Edmonton Friday, Treaty 6 Grand Chief Bernice Martial said the RCMP’s decision to back the 70 per cent statistic has created the need for an independent review of the data on murdered and missing Indigenous women held by the RCMP.
“We demand an independent investigator to collect all information and data of missing and murdered Indigenous women held by Statistics Canada and the RCMP,” said Martial, during the Edmonton press conference. “More questions have been raised than answered. We demand answers now.”
On Thursday, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch’s office released to the media a letter written by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and addressed to Martial. In the letter, Paulson said “consolidated data” from about 300 police agencies produced the 70 per cent statistic.
Paulson was responding to a letter from Martial who wrote the top Mountie asking for data to back up Valcourt’s claim. Valcourt mentioned the 70 per cent statistic during a closed-door meeting in Calgary last month which Martial attended.
The RCMP initially refused to back Valcourt saying its “bias-free policing policy” prevented the federal force from releasing ethnically-based information on perpetrators. Paulson’s decision to confirm the statistic runs counter to the policy.
APTN asked the RCMP to explain the decision to release that statistic. The RCMP did not respond.
“Why did the RCMP, when for two weeks it stated that they have a bias-free policing policy…all of a sudden change their policy within this time frame?” said Martial.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde on Friday added his voice to the ongoing controversy and called on the RCMP and Valcourt to share all its information on murdered and missing Indigenous women with First Nations.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that important information on a priority issue is being withheld from First Nations,” said Bellegarde, in a statement. “The federal government and the RCMP must immediately release all the information they have to First Nations so we can better understand the current situation and work together toward solutions.”
Bellegarde said he would be writing the RCMP to formally request the information.
The national chief also took aim at Valcourt for his initial decision to use the statistic to counter public inquiry calls from chiefs during the March Calgary meeting.
“Blaming the victim is no longer an option,” said Bellegarde.
Martial has called for Valcourt’s resignation.
It seems unlikely the RCMP would be willing to release all the information it gathered as part of its project on murdered and missing Indigenous women. While the RCMP released a report last spring and plans to release a second report in May, Paulson said in the letter existing agreements prevented it from releasing all its raw data.
Paulson said the RCMP obtained data from Statistics Canada and individual police agencies across the country through signed agreements it would not be disclosing the raw information publicly.
As part of its massive project to get a statistical handle on the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women across the country, the RCMP obtained Statistic Canada’s annual homicide surveys ranging from1980 and 2012. In order to receive the information, the RCMP signed a confidentiality agreement with Stats Can. The RCMP also signed agreements with police departments across the country to obtain their information.
Stats Can’s information, however, did not have completely accurate data on whether perpetrators were Aboriginal or not. The RCMP filled in the gaps found in the data by going back to individual police departments and manually reviewing the files.
“The RCMP is currently the source of the most complete information on the Aboriginal identity of the accused,” said Stats Can in a statement.
For the first time this coming December, Stats Can’s annual homicide survey will include the “Aboriginal identity” of victims and perpetrators.
University of Ottawa criminology professor Ronald Melchers said the 70 per cent statistic that is causing so much controversy is likely accurate.
“It is very consistent with everything I know,” said Melchers, who has extensive experience studying the intersection between criminal justice statistics and public policy. “A lot of people are saying we don’t know this, or we don’t know that, but we do know this very well.”
Melchers said the RCMP was put in a complicated spot when Valcourt’s musings leaked into the public domain.
“They did not want to do it, it violates their internal policy,” he said. “But they were forced into it…they did an assessment of what was the public interest, and the public interest was to release the information.”