Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says she doesn’t have enough data to judge whether the number of missing and murdered indigenous women far exceeds the estimate of 1,200 given by the RCMP, but that there is “anecdotal evidence” that it could be much higher.
Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons on Tuesday, Bennett fielded questions about a new estimate from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) of 4,000 missing and murdered women.
The new estimate far exceeds a 2014 RCMP report which put the tally at 1,181 murdered and missing women between 1980 and 2012. The force added another 32 deaths and 11 disappearances in a 2015 update.
Bennett would not commit to NWAC’s estimate, saying only that her consultations with families across the country in recent weeks have exposed a far greater problem than originally thought.
“We need better data, and we also need to take seriously the narrative of the families,” she said.
The narrative being provided by many families, Bennett explained, is that women who are officially recorded as having died as a result of accidents, suspected overdoses, suicides or natural causes may in fact have been killed. Bennett said the ministers have heard from people who speak of a daughter, wife or mother who died from a shot to the back of her head, or died with her hands tied behind her back, and it was called a suicide.
“If we only look at the number that actually are murdered or missing-designated we will not deal with the breadth and depth of this problem,” Bennett said.
“What we’re seeing now is that things that were called a suicide, things that were called an accident, these are the cases where the families really want this looked into. Because the minute the police called it a suicide, or an accident or natural causes or an overdose, that means that’s there’s no investigation.”
The number of families affected by the plague of violence against indigenous woman is likely far greater once you factor in incidents like this, she says. Pressed again about the new 4,000-women estimate, Bennett replied that she does not have the data to say if that’s accurate.
“But I know the problem is not about us fighting about the numbers.”
Bennett and Hajdu have recently marked the end of a country-wide consultation process with survivors and the families of victims as the government prepares to launch a public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in the coming months.
With files from the Canadian Press.