To End the Double Standard

Missing Justice Marches for Change

  • Photo Rodrigo Lozarda

Valentine’s Day may be a time for most to celebrate love between two people, but for those who will be assembling in Cabot Square this Tuesday, it’s a time to show love for community.

On that day, advocacy group Missing Justice will be holding a march for missing and murdered women, an annual event started after the murder of a Coast Salish woman in Vancouver in 1991.

Since then, it has been a day of memorial, with a focus on missing and murdered indigenous women.

“While each case of a missing or murdered native woman or girl is completely different, the patterns that have revealed themselves are extremely eerie in their similarity,” said Maya Khamala Rolbin-Ghanie, a member of Missing Justice.

“It’s almost a formula: police delay the investigation as long as they can, citing all kinds of ‘good’ reasons to do so.”

These reasons include the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, including high drug use and promiscuity among native women.

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, 583 Native women have disappeared or been murdered since 1980. But it’s the systemic forces at play that are at the heart of the issue for those leading the march, and facing them is the only way to make things better.

“Losing one life without response or concrete [police] action, or if we see systemic discrimination, is unacceptable,” said Quebec Native Women President Michèle Audette.

Audette is speaking at the march about the need for the Quebec government to take a more active role in educating police and first responders, and holding accountable those who are negligent or
discriminatory.

For this year’s edition, Missing Justice is bringing in a wider range of speakers, including members from the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, Girls Action Foundation and sex worker advocacy group STELLA.

“The level of violence against native women is unlike the level of violence against anyone else in the country, but we want to respect the founding principles of this event and commemorate missing and murdered women of all nations,” said Rolbin-Ghanie.

In addition to speakers, the march will also include Native women performing, including vocalist Moe Clark and all-female Native drum group Odaya.

Audette has been lobbying for a task force to ensure the police and government are implementing practices to eliminate discrimination, comprised of members of the federal and provincial governments, the Sûreté du Québec, Aboriginal communities and affected families.

She argues the situation needs to improve, and such change will not likely happen without oversight.

“Since last October I’ve been [telling] the Quebec government that we need a group to improve the situation here, and also that we make sure that we increase awareness with the police,” she said.

“There’s sometimes discrimination, intolerance or they just don’t know about us, how to interact with us.

“We want to target all the areas so that they know where we’re coming from and our aspirations for tomorrow.”

It’s a problem rooted in a lack of understanding, linked to the kind of coverage the issue receives in mainstream media. And that’s one area where there is room for great improvement.

“Media coverage can go from anywhere from no coverage at all, to really bad coverage that perpetuates negative stereotypes. The next step up would be to humanize the women, but the coverage that’s always missing still is what delves into the systemic issues that cause it,” said Rolbin-Ghanie.

“We see lack of education as a huge part of the problem.”

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