Tag Archives: Canada

Canada: “Commit Sociology,” Protect Indigenous Women

Cover photo from Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Read the full report here.

Photo from “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview” by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Read the full report here.

In the wake of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing and a foiled plot to attack a Via Rail train, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told citizens now is not the time to “commit sociology.” Rather than look for the underlying causes of problems like homegrown terrorism, he stressed the power of law enforcement agencies to express the government’s condemnation of violence. While his position was contentious at the time, its efficacy has recently come under fire again, this time from members of Canada’s large Aboriginal community.

After the body of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old indigenous woman, was pulled from the Red River in early August, a vigil was held in Winnipeg in her memory. More than a thousand people gathered at the vigil, renewing calls for a national public inquiry into the cases of nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women and girls who have been reported missing or murdered since 1980. According to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the vigil’s guide, Wab Kinew, directly addressed the Canadian federal government’s refusal to address the alarming pattern. “Is now the time to make that change?” he asked. “Is now the time we say no more stolen sisters? We say that violence against women must stop. And if we go home and do nothing about this it’s a missed opportunity.”

Yet Harper’s response, delivered in a speech at Yukon College, reiterated the stance he took last year on terrorism. He urged Canadians not to understand missing and murdered aboriginal women as a “sociological phenomenon” and instead, to “view it as a crime.”

The problem with this view, explain sociologist Julie Kaye and public policy scholar Daniel Béland in the Toronto Star, is this:

If the prime minister would take the time to consult even the most rudimentary criminology textbook, he would find that crime is a social phenomenon shaped by powerful historical and social forces. Inequality among different populations in society is one of these forces. In Canada, it is a well-established fact that aboriginal peoples, who face much more poverty and unemployment than the national average, are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than other Canadians…

Harper’s downplaying of “the undeniable and well-documented reality that social inequality and violent victimization are closely linked” takes the focus off differences in perception of state power, as Kaye and Béland note. But, they stress, it is necessary for him to “at the very least, consider that aboriginal women do not want their murders to be solved, they want to live.” We must remember,

Violence against aboriginal women is a crime but a crime rooted in a particular social context, a context the prime minister suggests Canadians should disregard. He does so at the expense of the lives and safety of aboriginal women.

 

Unfortunately, Aboriginal Canadians are not the only minority group with a high victimization rate. To learn more about the “homocide divide” in the United States, see this piece. Also, check out this Citings & Sightings article about press coverage of a study with similar findings.

 

 

 

Can a Rise in Rape Reports Be Good?

The 40th Anniversary of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre marks just one of the long-standing resources available to victims. It is funded both publicly and privately.

The 40th Anniversary of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre marks just one of the long-standing resources available to victims. It is funded both publicly and privately.

A recent Metro News article turned to social scientist Isabelle Côté for an explanation about an alarming rise in the rate of sexual assaults in Ottawa, Canada. Côté suggested that the data could point to something other than an actual increase in assaults: since Ottawa devotes resources to programs that help those who have been assaulted, Côté believes victims may be more likely to report the crime there than elsewhere.

Still, sexual assault is significantly underreported. Côté tells the paper only about 10% of sexual assaults are actually reported to the authorities. That means perhaps a number as low as 6,000 (the number reported in Ottawa last year) should be cause for concern. Côté told Metro News that issues of race, class, and gender stereotypes can influence whether the crime is reported—and whether the victim is believed.

Increasing rates of reported sexual assault may be a good thing if it means more victims are coming forward. Côté also discusses the importance of funding for rape prevention alongside support for victims. The key is to reduce assaults but dramatically increase reporting when they occur.

Concerns over Canadian Crime

Canadian homicide rates increased in 2011 relative to 2010, but according to the Globe and Mail, the uptick shouldn’t cause alarm. Any rise in homicide is worrying, sure, but Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd cautions against inferring too much from a single year’s crime data.

Journalist Patrick White sums up:

When 2011 numbers are plugged into a broader time frame, the picture is much more soothing. Homicide figures bottomed out in the early 1960s, peaked in 1977 and began plummeting in the early 1990s down to a statistical valley of around two murders a year for every 100,000 people, a low where it has remained for 15 years. In 2011, the rate was 1.7 per 100,000.

Canadian homicide trends via Stats Canada

Moreover, while Canadian homicide rates did increase last year, attempted homicides and the overall rate of violent and property crimes reported to the police continued to drop.  Like in the U.S., most forms of Canadian “street” crime (e.g. burglary and assault) are much lower today than two decades ago. As CBCNews reported, the overall rate of crime in 2011 reached a low last seen in 1972.