An Indigenous organization has managed to find in archives nearly 100 Indigenous women murdered in Quebec between 1980 and 2012, more than double the RCMP’s toll.
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“The police don’t care! It’s like there’s no urgency. It’s the indigenous organizations that need to hire someone to know the numbers,” laments Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau, research coordinator for the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter.
The latter has been combing databases for nearly three years, newspaper articles from the time and collecting testimonials from families to get an accurate picture of the situation.
In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Statistics Canada calculated that 46 Indigenous women were murdered in the province between 1980 and 2012. These are the most current figures.
Besides that for his part, Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau arrives at nearly a hundred women murdered in the same period. This number continues to increase as his research progresses.
How can such a difference be explained?
“If a murder has been committed, it is the police who tick ‘indigenous’ or not in the report. It is problematic because they are the ones who judge,” emphasizes the young Inuk.
Since a long time
But his database spans a much longer period of time than the RCMP report, going back to the colony’s beginnings to today. It currently has 201 names.
“Quebecers are not aware of the number of victims here, they think it only happens in British Columbia,” said Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.
“We all know who Cédrika Provencher or Julie Surprenant are. But Tera Fay Jolly, who was murdered at the age of 16 [à Waskaganish, dans le Nord-du-Québec, en 2009] † Nobody knows who it is,” adds Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau.
Not To Forget
During her research, the 26-year-old woman also realized that many of these women had fallen into obscurity, even in their communities of origin.
So she considers creating an interactive map to get their story out there. “I just want to give a voice to women who have never had one,” said the researcher.
His own grandmother is among the tragic statistics. “There really are a lot of murdered women in Nunavik,” she sighs.
As proof, Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau tells of a recent meeting with two other Inuit women who visited Montreal.
“There were three of us, from different communities [nordiques]† And the three of us had a relative in my database. It really shocked me,” she laments.
Impossible to make a portrait of the situation
Even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recognize the difficulties in compiling statistics on the disappearance or murder of Aboriginal women in Canada.
“Asking a police officer to determine a person’s race based on their perception is difficult, as it can produce incomplete and inaccurate results,” a 2014 report reads.
For example, some rely solely on the victim’s last name or skin color to determine their ancestry.
The RCMP also points out that the different police forces do not rely on the same criteria – Indian status, impressions of police officers, information from relatives, etc. – which complicates the compilation.
The same report shows that 46 Aboriginal women were murdered in Quebec between 1980 and 2012, a figure that would be greatly underestimated.
The newspaper tried to obtain more current figures, without success.
“The RCMP does not have the mandate to conduct this type of statistical research, nor the budgetary appropriations to do it,” wrote a spokesperson, referring us to tables from Statistics Canada.
Nakuset, director of Montreal’s Native Women’s Shelter, sees in it “an institutional and systematic ignorance” that contributes to minimizing the magnitude of the problem.
“We are really at the bottom of the totem when it comes to police priorities,” she scolds.
The Sûreté du Québec did not respond to our inquiries at the time of going to press.
Aware of the difficulties of Log to get an official picture of the situation, Québec’s minister in charge of Aboriginal affairs, Ian Lafrenière, acknowledged that “the system was not adapted to the requirements”.
“It’s not out of ill will, it’s out of lack of resources,” he said.
He acknowledged in the same breath that some murders of indigenous women could slip under the radar of the authorities and not be counted as such.
In 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls pointed out that data available in Quebec was often incomplete, “preventing that[ait] to paint an honest picture of the situation.