People who kill Indigenous women punished less than those who kill non-Indigenous women, Senator's study finds - APTN NewsAPTN News

People who kill Indigenous women punished less than those who kill non-Indigenous women, Senator’s study finds

Indigenous women

Senator Lillian Dyck has co-authored a soon to be released study that she says has found disproportionate sentencing for offenders in female homicide cases. File photo.

Justin Brake
An Indigenous Senator who is trying to change how perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women are sentenced in Canada says a soon to be released report shows that courts are more lenient to people who kill Indigenous women and girls than to those whose victims are not Indigenous.

Cree Senator Lillian Dyck shared some of the report’s findings with APTN News.

The co-authored paper analyzed data from around 800 cases involving violence against women between 1980 and 2013.

The cases were selected because they reveal the ethnicity of both the victim and the perpetrator, Dyck explained in a phone interview.

Among the researchers’ starkest findings is a disparity between the punishments for those who kill Indigenous women and those who kill non-Indigenous women.

“Even though with murder there is very little wiggle room [with convictions], we did find that if you looked at the type of convictions by the victim’s race, when it was an Indigenous victim most often it was second-degree murder or manslaughter. If it was a non-Indigenous victim it was more likely first or second-degree murder,” Dyck said.

First degree murder convictions are more likely to be given to those who killed a non-Indigenous woman–33 per cent–compared to perpetrators who killed an Indigenous woman, at 20 per cent.

For second degree murder convictions, the rates were 39 per cent in cases where the victim was Indigenous, versus 46 per cent when the victim was not Indigenous.

In contrast, the researchers found 39 per cent of manslaughter convictions in cases where the victim was Indigenous, versus 21 per cent when the victim was non-Indigenous.

“That shows there’s something going on. It doesn’t prove there’s a racial bias, but it’s an indication that you should look into it further.”

Dyck and her collaborators also found that in some homicide cases Indigenous male perpetrators “got a much higher sentence” in cases where the victim was not Indigenous, compared to cases where the victim was Indigenous, Dyck explained, adding the number of such cases was “not very high” but enough to warrant further investigation into the matter.

The researchers found that non-Indigenous offenders received roughly “the same number of years before parole” regardless of their victims’ race.

“But it was very different for the Aboriginal perpetrators if it was a non-Indigenous victim. He has to wait many more years before he got parole,” Dyck said.

The Senator said in most homicide cases involving non-Indigenous female victims, the perpetrator was an intimate partner.

But in cases where the victim was Indigenous, “usually it’s an acquaintance.”

According to the study, 32 per cent of perpetrators or accused offenders were not known to Indigenous victims, while 12 per cent were unknown to non-Indigenous victims.

“Contrary to the widespread belief that Indigenous women are only killed by persons known to them, this data shows the significant role of persons not known to Indigenous victims,” the report reads.

The research also substantiated claims by former federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and former RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson in 2015 that upward of 70 per cent of female Indigenous homicide victims were killed by Indigenous men.

Valcourt came under fire from First Nations leaders after he told Alberta chiefs of the unpublished RCMP statistic during a meeting in Calgary.

Paulson later confirmed Valcourt’s assertion.

But Dyck said those claims haven’t been corroborated with evidence until now.

Indigenous women

People rally on the steps of the Supreme Court of Canada in October 2018, seeking justice for Cindy Gladue. Justin Brake/APTN

“Before colonization women were not seen the way they are now — there was respect for women,” she said.

“And that respect has been eroded through centuries of colonization, through the residential schools, and so on.”

By contrast in the authors’ findings, only two per cent of those accused in homicide cases involving non-Indigenous women were themselves Indigenous.

“This data disputes stereotypical beliefs that non-Indigenous women should be most fearful of Indigenous men,” Dyck and her co-authors write in the study.

Dyck said 92 per cent of the offenders in the study were male.

The authors say the findings reveal a “racialized dimension” to the homicide of women.

They say Indigenous women are targeted by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous killers, while non-Indigenous women are targeted “almost exclusively by non-Indigenous perpetrators.”

Bill S-215 pushes for legal reform

Dyck’s partial release of her research results coincided with the second reading of her Senate Bill S-215 in the House of Commons Monday.

The proposed legislative change would require courts, in cases of violent offences, to consider the fact that a victim is an Indigenous woman as an aggravating factor when sentencing offenders.

Effectively, those accused of crimes like sexual assault, aggravated assault, manslaughter or murder could face stiffer sentences for harming or killing an Indigenous woman than if the woman was not Indigenous.

At the very least, the Senator hopes, judges will be compelled to address the vulnerability and disproportionate targeting of Indigenous women in their decisions and sentencing.

Having already passed three readings in the Senate, the bill was sponsored on Monday by Indigenous Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre Robert Falcon-Ouellette, who said S-215 will “rebalance the scales of justice.”

He said the cases of Indigenous women and youth like Tina Fontaine, Cindy Gladue and Helen Betty Osborne are proof that “the combination of being Aboriginal female and living in a colonial society has devalued and dehumanized our women, and they are seen as inherently less worthy than other women.”

Indigenous women

Liberal MP Robert Falcon-Ouellette sponsored Bill S-215 Monday in the House of Commons, saying if passed it would “rebalance the scales of justice” for female Indigenous victims of violent crimes.

He referenced the Canadian justice system’s “so-called subtle discrimination against Aboriginal women and girls” and said Dyck’s proposed legislative changes would “increase the likelihood that the consequences of assaulting or murdering an Aboriginal woman or girl are appropriate and meaningful.”

Dene NDP MP Georgina Jolibois also supported the bill, admitting it’s “not a catch-all solution for the problems Indigenous women face in the justice system,” but that it’s “an opportunity for us to examine and question the belief systems judges, lawyers, police officers and court workers have and calls on them to see indigenous women from a new perspective.”

But the bill isn’t receiving support from some MPs in the Liberal and Conservative caucuses.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper questioned the bill’s constitutionality and suggested it might contradict the Gladue principle in sentencing.

He asked if S-215 would violate Section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees all Canadians equal protection and benefit under the law without discrimination.

“What the bill would do with respect to the Criminal Code is quite novel from the standpoint of aggravating circumstances,” he said, “because it would create a special class of victim, namely indigenous women.”

Cooper said race, gender and vulnerability can already be considered aggravating factors in sentencing.

He said under Dyck’s proposed legislative changes “it would not even matter if the offender knew that the victim was an Indigenous woman.”

Cooper was joined by colleague and Conservative Crown-Indigenous Relations Critic Cathy McLeod, and Liberal MP Randy Boissonneault, in his concerns about the bill’s potential contradiction of the Gladue principle, which compels judges to consider all reasonable alternatives to jail when sentencing Indigenous offenders.

“There would certainly be some litigation and some degree of uncertainty around sentencing,” Cooper said, in situations where a judge may be compelled to consider a victim’s Indigeneity as an aggravating factor while also considering alternative sentencing for Indigenous offenders.

If S-215 were passed into law, “a judge could be under contradictory obligations both to lengthen the sentence for an Indigenous offender’s criminal conduct against an Indigenous woman and, at the same time, to consider alternatives to incarceration and reduce the sentence because the offender themselves has an Indigenous background,” Boissonneault said.

Jolibois said Monday under Bill S-215 “the practitioners of violence would still get the punishment the law calls for, even with the aggravating circumstances the bill would put in place.”

She said the Supreme Court has ruled that for serious offences, there may not be any reduction in imprisonment for Aboriginal offenders.

Dyck said the Gladue provisions as they currently exist have “created a situation of unfairness” for Indigenous women “whereby [they’re] worth less than the man.”

“Really what you’re saying to Aboriginal offenders is that you’re going to get special provisions and that maybe your crime of sexually assaulting someone—maybe even your spouse—is not that serious because of the circumstances of your life — which I understand. But those same exact factors are what made the Indigenous women vulnerable to that.

“Indigenous women are seen as the lowest. In terms of racial hierarchy, we’re on the bottom.”

Dyck said she is open to amendments of the bill and had previously considered making it applicable to all women, “with special consideration given to First Nations, Inuit and Metis women.”

But there’s an urgent need for the reform, she adds.

“The longer we wait the more Indigenous women and girls go through the court system and don’t get a fair deal — 30 to 40 a year, 450 I think in the last three years,” she said.

“We could be making a difference for them rather than sitting and waiting. It’s certainly frustrating seeing it happen, to know the families are wanting this.”

With endorsements from the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, it remains to be seen if the bill will garner enough support in the House of Commons.

But Falcon-Ouellette suggested Monday that if Conservative and NDP members “decided to support the bill, I suspect there might be enough members on this side of the House, whether the government supports it or not, to move it forward.”

Dyck said “it’s hard to know” if her bill would deter offenders.

She said if the bill is passed and a judge decides to hand down a harsher sentence to an offender who has killed an Indigenous woman, the impact could be that people’s views “gradually start to change.”

“It’s not going to be instant; it’s going to take time.”


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17 Responses to “People who kill Indigenous women punished less than those who kill non-Indigenous women, Senator’s study finds”

    Molly December 1, 2018 at 8:47 pm #

    Absolutely incredible that people think some one should get a stiffer penalty for killing a certain race of people. A person is a person regardless of race and sentencing should reflect that. Way to create racial tension. Unbelievable.

      Har December 2, 2018 at 7:42 pm #

      Its a disgrace people aren’t condemning murder way to avoid the responsible ones that disregard a life no matter who it is.

    Ryan November 30, 2018 at 10:38 pm #

    As I understand it this article is all about racism in the courts and people wanting to eliminate it. Noble goal. But how do they expect to do so by forcing more racial differences into the proceedings? Sorry but that’s simply not how things work. Bill S215, as well intentioned as it may be, would be yet another part of the problem instead of being a step towards a solution.

    Gil November 29, 2018 at 12:59 am #

    I think this whole issue is a joke. You people talk about how hard things are for other people, saying “they were discriminated against in the past, so they should get special treatment now.” If you people would drop the labels and treat people as people, this problem wouldn’t exist. Trying to create special provision for any one group will ALWAYS leave someone losing out, the only real way to establish equality is to take things like gender, race and religion out of the court room. A person’s personal beliefs and qualities shouldn’t be a factor in an interpersonal incident. If you don’t want your group to be discriminated against, join the biggest one out there; humankind.

      Nancy Stevens December 1, 2018 at 12:20 am #

      By saying you should just “get on with it” implies that getting on with things will make the bias (systemic and individual) disappear. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Denying racism exists doesn’t stop it from happening any more than denying the sun gets hot or winter gets cold stops it from being so. Until you’ve had to live with the brunt of discriminatory policies and attitudes on the level that Indigenous people have, it might be a good idea to find out what that is actually like – and how it harms people on so many levels.

      Robert Greg McQuarrie December 2, 2018 at 9:31 pm #

      I believe you are missing the point. The indigenous are asking to be treated equal. The racial division, what you call mankind, are already there. Aboriginals are lesser than non aboriginals, particularly whites. You tell the courts to take that stuff out that you claim is humankind. Get real.

  4. Noruminer@gmail.coml'
    Ed Winters November 28, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

    Kind of a backfire story is it not? Most indigenous women are killed by indigenous men. Doesn’t this mean the indigenous men are receiving lighter sentences than those men that murder non-indigenous women?

      Harlen December 2, 2018 at 7:44 pm #

      Site that source that it is Indigenous men doing so please and thank you.

    Dane November 28, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

    False. Numbers do lie. The reason they are punished less is not because of the race of the victim, but of the perpetrator. The majority of violence against indigenous women is committed by indigenous men. Helps to think about the information before reacting to it emotionally.

      Adrienne November 28, 2018 at 10:45 pm #

      What facts do you have to back up your statement?! I believe your incorrect and spreading false information. Please in future when making statements like these provide proof!!!

      Lhoucin November 29, 2018 at 2:55 am #

      Did you read what the study says???

      The majority of violent acts are not committed by indigenous people, as wrongly beleived!

      It’s a complicated propblem. But assume your part and don’t blame the victims.


      Marina November 29, 2018 at 3:42 am #

      You didn’t even read this fully or you would see that that is incorrect.

      Marie November 29, 2018 at 4:17 am #

      The article states that that is not true regardless of the widespread perception. Most Indigenous women are not killed by Indigenous men.

    Irene Huculiak November 28, 2018 at 4:28 am #

    How many of those sentences took a plea bargain? Was the plea bargain in place to cut down on court times?

    Teena Michelle November 28, 2018 at 3:23 am #

    This is a symptom of our society and how it views an Indigenous woman’s life over a non Indigenous woman’s life! Numbers don’t lie! This makes me sad and angry that our Justice the law is so backwards and they are so lost in their ignorance and pride they can’t take a step back and figure things out! I get really annoyed when people say that Racism is not a problem! Yes it is!

      Victoria November 28, 2018 at 7:30 pm #

      I’m sure the numbers are skewed by those defendents lucky enough to get paid attorneys (resulting in reduced sentencing) and the free public representation utilized by lower income individuals. I’m also sure that this is happening. Things most definitely need to change.

      Tracy November 29, 2018 at 6:37 am #

      So, what are the implications of this finding? Is the justice system more lenient on Indigenous men?

      “The research also substantiated claims by former federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and former RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson in 2015 that upward of 70 per cent of female Indigenous homicide victims were killed by Indigenous men.”

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