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November 25, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

The Vancouver Sun: Violence against aboriginal women is Canada’s top human rights issue


His is family called him Boomer, and he was the cutest seven-month-old you’ve ever seen. One terrifying day in April 2008, Boomer disappeared from his babysitter’s home on the Kitigan Zibi First Nations community, near Maniwaki, Que.

Reserve police and Quebec provincial police launched a coordinated search. A helicopter with infrared cameras aided the hunt. Within two days, Boomer was located, safe and sound.

Fast forward four months, and two more go missing in the area – Maisy and Shannon. This time there was no helicopter, and no immediate coordinated police search. The pair have never been found.

Boomer was a lion cub. Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander were teenage aboriginal girls.

Maisy and Shannon are two faces of an overlooked national crisis. Their names join the list of hundreds of First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls murdered, or simply vanished, over the last decade.

“Caring and free-spirited,” is how Laurie Odjick describes her daughter. Maisy, 16, loved cutting up fabric to make her own clothes – she had big plans to finish her high school diploma and go to college for fashion design.

On Friday, Sept. 6, 2008, Odjick hugged Maisy and told her she loved her. It was the last time she would ever touch her daughter.

That evening Maisy planned to attend a dance with her friend Shannon and spend the night at Shannon’s father’s apartment. The next day Shannon walked her father to the bus station, then headed back to the apartment where Maisy was sleeping. He saw her go. Neither girl has been heard from since.

Purses, money and all their belongings were left behind, Odjick says. Wherever the girls went – or wherever they were taken – they had no more than the clothes on their backs.

Meticulously combing police records, news stories and other sources, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has compiled a database of 582 murdered and disappeared native women and girls across Canada from 2000-2010. Jennifer Lord, strategic policy liaison for the NWAC, says further tracking since 2010 is impossible because Ottawa slashed funding for such research.

According to the NWAC, native women represent only three per cent of Canadian women but account for 10 per cent of Canada’s female homicide victims. Lord tells us if non-aboriginal women in Canada were murdered and vanishing at the same rate as aboriginal women, the dead and disappeared would number more than 18,000.

Across Canada, a suspect is identified and charged in 84 per cent of homicide cases. When it comes to the murder of aboriginal women, barely half are ever solved.

In its recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch identified violence against aboriginal women as one of the top human rights issues facing Canada today.

The official investigation for Maisy and Shannon was a tragedy of errors.

Odjick says the Kitigan Zibi reserve police refused to mount a search and declared – with no evidence – that the girls were runaways. No forensic examination of the apartment was conducted. The RCMP offered assistance but were rebuffed by the reserve force. Odjick later learned the reserve police didn’t have an established procedure for missing persons cases.

Meanwhile, because Shannon lived off reserve in Maniwaki, the Quebec Provincial Police opened a separate file for her alone, further complicating the investigation.

With no assistance from police, the family and community undertook searches, but turned up nothing. Months later, organizations like Ottawa-based Search and Rescue Global 1 learned of the case and launched search efforts, but the trail had long gone cold.

Two weeks ago Maisy turned 21. Odjick clings to the hope her daughter is still alive . She now looks for support to launch a human rights appeal, claiming the botched investigation denied Maisy her right to justice.

Meanwhile, Maisy’s case, and the hundreds more like it, have left aboriginal groups with a whole lot of “whys.”

Why are indigenous women at a greater risk for violence? Why do so many of these cases go unsolved? Why does a lion cub get more media and police attention than two young girls?

Groups like the NWAC and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to launch a national inquiry to find answers.

And unlike the B.C. inquiry after the Willie Pickton case, this time they want those affected – families and aboriginal groups – to be part of the process.

“We cannot lose any more of our people to violence. We must together address the root causes of why violence is so prevalent among indigenous women, and we must engage directly with those most affected to ensure we get it right,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo.

You can support the calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women by joining the AFN postcard campaign at http: // policy-areas/i-pledge.- end -violence and signing the NWAC petition at

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of the international charity and educational partner Free The Children.

Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees.

For more information, visit http://www.weday. com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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