This blog entry is inspired by the third panel of LEAP's Accessing Justice and Accountability in Policing Conference (March 11 at Windsor Law).
It has been argued that the dehumanization of Aboriginals in Canada is an institutionalized behaviour, resulting from colonialism. Agents of the state were taking Aboriginal peoples, en masse, far from home and putting them at risk for a very long time. It is difficult to overstate the legacy of dehumanization. But it is even more difficult to call it a legacy because doing so implies past tense.
Modern Canadian examples of dehumanization in policing are ‘the Starlight Tours' phenomenon and the failure of the police to properly investigate the hundreds of missing Aboriginal women, collectively know as ‘Stolen Sisters’.
Starlight Tours refers to the practice of police officers driving Aboriginals to the outkirsts of city limits, in the middle of the night, and abandoning them, often in the freezing cold and with very little clothing. While the focus of the practice has been on Saskatchewan with the Neil Stonechild Inquiry and the conviction of two police officers for dumping Darryl Night outside of Saskatoon, a recent study reveals that the practice is systemic in Manitoba as well.
With respect to ‘Stolen Sisters,’ Amnesty International, amongst others, allege that Aboriginal victims of crime, women in particular, receive less attention from the police, resulting in many unsolved cases. In their report “Stolen Sisters” Amnesty International points out that:
Long-standing patterns of marginalization, impoverishment and discrimination are critical factors putting Indigenous women in Canada at risk of violence and exploitation. These same factors have also denied many Indigenous women full protection of the police and justice system.
Following the announcement of the Manitoba Integrated Task Force for Missing and Murdered Women in 2009, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bill Robinson told the CBC: “I think it's become certainly clear to us that every homicide, every murder and involving any woman, we recognize that there's a lot of sadness and anxiety and fear out in the communities.”
Several provincial governments have commissioned task forces with the daunting job of figuring out and trying to solve the problem of stolen sisters. Acknowledging a problem is only the first step.
Hopefully, the task forces will recognize the critical role policing plays the tragedy of Stolen Sisters. It is important that police respect the integrity of all members of the community and deliver their best service to all. Time will have to pass for confidence to build, and it will always remain fragile.
In a 2008 interview, with Ladies Home Journal, Barack Obama shared a lesson he learned from his mother:
The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it's educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they're going to fall behind.
If Canada is to be judged on its treatment of our Aboriginal peoples, maybe we are not as advanced as we may like to believe.
Gavin Wolch (Windsor Law II)