No Sound Heard : Violence Against Aboriginal Women in Canada

Dedicated to my sister in arms. Peace and Love HoneyBlades

 

Violence against women typically draws a lot of attention, and rightfully so. The abduction of the 200 girls in Nigeria drew worldwide coverage, as have a string of rapes in India. However, here in Canada, aboriginal women deal with an epidemic of violence, and there`s nary a peep to be heard. According to a study published in The Law and Society Association, aboriginal women who go missing in Canada receive 27 times less news coverage than white women; they also receive “dispassionate and less-detailed, headlines, articles, and images.” ( Gilchrist, Kristen (May 27, 2008). “Invisible Victims: Disparity in Print-News Media Coverage of Missing/Murdered Aboriginal and White Women”. AllAcademic.com. Retrieved June 8, 2011.). Although Gawker reports that in Canada, when indigenous women vanish in the night, their disappearances are met with one-sixth as much media attention as those of white women (http://gawker.com/canadas-highway-of-tears-and-the-women-we-forgot-1579002464). Either way, this is unacceptable and pathetic.

The Numbers

Aboriginal women in Canada face a disproportionate amount of violence in Canada. According to The Native Women`s Association of Canada : “Aboriginal women 15 and older are three and a half times more likely to experience violence (defined as physical and sexual assault and robbery) than non-Aboriginal women” and “Statistics Canada reports that rates of spousal assault (physical or sexual assault and threats of violence) against Aboriginal women are more than three times higher than non-Aboriginal women” (2010 NWAC SIS report). The rate of murder of aboriginal women is equally shocking, almost 7 times higher among aboriginal women, according to the Human Rights Watch 2013 report Those Who take Us Away. And finally, The NWAC reports  “Aboriginal women also report experiencing more severe and potentially life-threatening forms of family violence, such as being beaten or choked, having had a gun or knife used against them, or being sexually assaulted (54% of Aboriginal women versus 37% of non-Aboriginal women)” and “27% of Aboriginal women reported experiencing 10 or more assaults by the same offender (as  opposed to 18% of non-Aboriginal women)” (2010 NWAC SIS report).

 

Let the number sink in and it is horrifying.  Aboriginal women are being victimized in their own homes by the people they love and trust. They are being murdered at seven times the rate of non-aboriginal women. Literally every other aboriginal women you meet is likely to be the victim of serious family violence. This speaks to a culture of violence towards women. I have seen several twitter discussions about this, with several brave aboriginal men saying there needs to be changes in how aboriginal men treat their women. I cannot speak directly to this, as I am not aboriginal, but I think that it is true. Only aboriginal people themselves can change the way they treat each other, but given Canada’s long history of abuse towards native cultures, I would hope that they would treat each other better. The Native Women’s Association of Canada works towards this goal and has teaching packages and lots of information.

 

This is not an attack on aboriginal men. The behavior takes place within a cultural context of systematic institutionalized racism and multi-generational abuse at the hands of the state. It is merely another symptom of the problem, and there are many symptoms. According to research, aboriginal people are sicker (“Aboriginal Canadians: By the Numbers” Montreal Gazette, Jan 11, 2013, S. Kirbey and J Fekete), more likely to commit suicide, at twice to as much as ten times more likely to commit suicide (Suicide Among Aboriginal People in Canada. 2007. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation) and much more likely to be in jail, representing 17% of incarcerated people while only being 2.7 % of the population of Canada (“Aboriginal Victimization in Canada: A Summary of the Literature”. Victims of Crime Research Digest No. 3. Canada Department of Justice. 2013-04-30). These problems, among others lead to higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, gang participation and general cultural decays. It can be seen as nothing less than an attack on an indigenous people.

 

The problems do not end there for aboriginal women. When faced with domestic violence, these women are left with no escape. They rarely turn to the police, having faced decade after decade of abuse and neglect, they have rightfully lost trust in policing services (see Human Rights Watch 2013 report Those Who Take Us Away; especially disturbing, they claim that women in 5 of the 10 towns they visited reported assault by police officers ). If they do, they are then let down by the criminal justice system. As previously mentioned, over a quarter of native women are assaulted over ten times by the same person. Ten Times. Ten Times. These women face re-victimization from people who would receive long sentences if their crimes were committed against a white woman.  If beating a woman ten times is not enough to qualify for a long prison sentence, there is something very wrong with our courts.

 

This is then multiplied by the lack of concern given to aboriginal women by the general population. This quiet structural racism is typified by the huge discrepancy in media coverage. We are all familiar with missing white woman syndrome, where a missing white woman will receive huge media play and front page status, whereas missing aboriginal women are generally ignored (or other women of colour in other countries). This is a most insidious form of racism, and it teaches aboriginal women that people don’t care if they go missing or are victims of violence. It tells them that their lives do not matter when compared to caucasian women. And sadly, this is reenforced by the public. I have witnessed rallies for the cause of missing and murdered native women in two cities, and while I was pleased to note a number of native men there, I was sad to note the distinct lack of white people. I have seen repeated amber alerts, but cannot recall a single one for a missing aboriginal child.  The media is partly to blame for this, giving only token coverage to the rallies, but as Canadians, we all have to look in the mirror and see that our silence is equal to complicity.

Consider also that these stats are woefully inadequate to describe the situation these women are really facing. Crimes like sexual assault are massively under-reported anyway, because many victims fear they will not be taken seriously or worse, slandered and re-victimized by the criminal justice system. Now imagine the rate at which the aboriginal people must under-report these crimes, given the mistrust they feel of the system, and the lack of results they see on a regular basis.

Canadian aboriginal women face a special kind of torture. Abused at home and by strangers, unable to turn to authorities and ignored by the media and the general public, they are shackled in a prison of no escape. Faced with violence at every turn, a vanishing culture and no options, is it any wonder that drugs or prostitution are the outcome. We as Canadians have to change this situation. While petitioning politicians is always an option, it is unlikely to produce many results. A better target is the mass media. As a consumer driven enterprise, it will respond much more quickly to consumer input. We need to vote with our dollars and our views and clicks, and let them know that ignoring the plight of aboriginal women is no longer acceptable. If the situation receives more coverage, more people will become involved and changes will begin to occur.

 

As Canadians, we also need to change our culture and ourselves. While aboriginal communities need to be respectful of their women, that is their internal struggle.  As a larger culture, we need to ask ourselves why we allow this to continue. Canadians think of themselves as open accepting people, and in general we are. But our multicultural society does not seem to include the First Nations people. We love to look down our noses at how the Americans treat the African-American community, but we are no better, if not worse, in our treatment of our aboriginal people. These women are our people too, this is not just a problem with the aboriginal community, it should be a problem for everyone

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Blurred Lines : Policing militarily

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I am against the way policing is being practiced, but I am not anti-police. I am against war, but I am not anti-soldier. I have nothing but respect for people who are willing to lay their life on the line for what they believe, they are much braver than I am, and no disrespect is intended on a personal level (and that includes all first responders, like firemen and EMTs, etc). Dialogue can only be productive if we move beyond the simple dialectic of pro and anti.

 

Last year, the topic of militarized policing jumped into the mainstream consciousness with the Ferguson riots and highly publicized killings of unarmed black males in several states. Now, hardly a day goes by without a video of police brutality or misconduct making the rounds of you-tube or alternative media sites. While this is no doubt due to an increase in the ability of the public to record and spread these acts, there can also be no doubt that the number and severity of these acts is increasing as well.  The militarization of the police is becoming a larger problem that needs to be addressed.

 

Traditionally, the police are seen as a “body of persons empowered by the state to enforce the law, protect property and limit civil disorder ” (Wikipedia- Police) This is part of the so-called social contract, where citizens give certain powers to the state in return for the state protecting them and their rights. We agree to live according to the law, and the state is required to protect us in accordance with those laws. The police have the right to use force on behalf of the state to maintain collective order, which would be non-existant of every member of society went around using force against other citizens. Until recently, saying “the police” conjured up images of men in blue uniforms with badges “walking the beat”, or perhaps more derisively of giving speeding tickets to unwary drivers.

 

Now, however, the image the police evoke is of people in black, full-body armour with assault weapons and armoured vehicles. It is difficult to forget the picture of row upon row of storm-troopers with machine-guns advancing on unarmed protestors in Ferguson, lobbing tear gas and broadcasting  warnings from their armoured vehicles.  The scenes more resembled images of the war-torn middle east than our image of suburban North America. One very disturbing aspect (which got almost no media attention) was that the officers had their badges covered. That, combined with full face masks, means that it is nearly impossible to identify individual officers, even with near continuous video coverage, making it impossible to prosecute officers who violated the law. And do not think that this is strictly an American problem; it is happening all over the western world (and China, and Russia, etc). I can even remember a recent example from my home where officers arrived fully armoured at a crime scene hours after the suspect was dead. Were they worried his unarmed corpse was going to harm them?

 

The militarization of the police in term of hardware is impossible to deny. Even the smallest towns in American now boast assault rifles and drones and armoured vehicles. According to Fances Weave in The Week:
In recent years, the Department of Homeland Security has provided $35 billion to local police throughout the country to help buy weapons for “the war on terror.” The rest can be traced to the Pentagon, which has off-loaded $4.2 billion of surplus armored vehicles, rifles, and equipment to police departments as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down. Cash-strapped police departments obtain these weapons for free; all they have to do is pay for the shipping.
(http://theweek.com/articles/445062/militarization-americas-police)

However, I would like to focus on two other inter-related facets of militarization, the tactics of policing and the view of the public. Police are trained to respond to situations on a continuum of force, ranging from non-violent (ie. verbal interactions) to physical (ie. restraining a suspect) to lethal (ie. shooting suspects), and the response has to be appropriate to the situation. That means an officer should not be using lethal force against a suspect with his hands up.  Or that officers should not be physically abusing the elderly, or disabled, who clearly pose no physical threat. If there is no danger to the officer or civilians, lethal force cannot be justified, period.  (In an unrelated topic, I also do not understand the point of shooting people to prevent them from committing suicide. How does killing someone to prevent them from killing themselves make the situation better? No death was prevented, merely state sanctioned murder replacing the “crime” of self-murder.)

 

Police used to deal with civilians using the least intrusive methods possible. Until recently, police had discretion as to whether to even charge people or not (the classic example being taking a child caught stealing home to his parents for punishment). Most officers realized that there were better ways of dealing with problems than using the criminal justice system or force. Now, however, it seems like the response to any interaction is to resort to violence, even for failure to obey an order. This is a failure of training and leadership. If an officer is unable to deal with questions, non-violent non-compliance or even insults without immediately resorting to force, they do not deserve to be police officers.

 

A large part of the problem is the shift in perception that has gone on since the 9/11 attacks, both within the police force and in the government in general. I know from personal interactions with officers while I was studying criminology, that police used to view the pubic as divided into two classes: citizens, and criminals. They knew that they were there to enforce the laws against criminals and to “serve and protect” the public. This is no longer the case. We now live in a culture of paranoia and fear. The Snowden leaks have shown that we live in a surveillance state, where the citizen is considered the suspect. The constant fear mongering has scared people into accepting that it is okay for government agencies to completely violate privacy rights, to accept constant monitoring of communications and more and more video cameras.

 

This mindset is prevalent in today’s policing, and is the most worrying part of police militarization. The military is not designed to enforce laws, the point of the military is to defeat opponents using force. The mental militarization of the police turns them into the enforcement arm of the surveillance state, where everyone is suspect until proven innocent. This total reversal of the system creates an environment where police feel justified in using force at will, because we are no longer citizens, we are all possible domestic threats. Military training teaches soldiers to de-humanize the enemy,  which in turn allows the soldiers to commit acts that they would not be able to do if they thought of the enemy as human. When this occurs in policing, it results in an escalation of violence and a lack of respect for the citizenry, which are an antithesis of what policing needs to be about. This in turn leads to increased suspicion and anger towards the police, which leads to increased suspicion and anger from the police, becoming a cycle that can quickly escalate out of control.

 

The crux of this argument is : what do we think the function of the police should be? I believe, as I’m sure most people do, that we need a police force. We need police to protect the social order and prevent the chaos that would come if people went around using force to get their way. I think that the police should be an extension of the community they serve, not the government (or more correctly, the government should also be an extension of the community, not it’s ruler). I believe we should return to the community policing model, where officers actually did walk a beat, and interacted with the community they police in non-policing situations, get to know the community and it’s individual members. This allows for much more discretion than merely having officers respond to places after a crime has been committed, or just before the state believes there is about to be one. This reactive form removes the officers from having any investment in the community, and the pre-emptive strike method is now basically a guarantee that there will be ill feelings on both sides. To be clear, I am not advocating that protests not be policed, but that showing up in force, fully militarized and expecting trouble is a recipe for disaster and tells the protestors that the police are not their to protect them and their right to peaceful protest, but to watch and control them.

 

This is a difficult and complex issue, with many valid arguments on both sides. I am well aware that police feel less safe, but I would argue that their behavior has a large part in the reason they feel less safe. No amount of weapons or armour will prevent police deaths, there have always been officers killed in the line of duty, and sadly, there probably always will. However, escalating the violence by militarizing will only lead to further violence. We need to return to the lower end of the force spectrum, unless absolutely neccesary, and return to having police as part of the community, not apart from it.

Heroes of the Internet Age

The Internet has brought alot of change to the world, to put it mildly. Free porn, instant communication and lots and lots of business. But it has produced very few heroes that affect our real world. That is, until now. Many of us have seen the masks, or the videos with the slightly creepy voice saying “we are anonymous, we are legion, we do not forgive, we do not forget, expect us “. What many don”t realize is that they represent the only true heroes that common people have anymore.

 

Anonymous is a collective of hackivists who are changing the world. They share many qualities with the internet from which they have emerged. Like the internet, they are (obviously) anonymous. Anonymity is both a strength and a weakness of the internet. The weakness is that people use the anonymity as an excuse to be mean spirited and petty. You just have to read the comments following almost any Youtube video to see what I mean. It doesn’t take more than three responses for people to degenerate into name-calling and belittling and cussing, and that’s just after a science video. However, its strength is freedom. You can surf whatever you like, find whatever suits your passions or your whimsy, and (barring NSA snooping) no one gets to know. Anonymous takes this strength even further by using the protection to actually effect change. Unfortunately, they must remain hidden, because they are treated like criminals, but the internet, with all its holes and hidden spots, provides them a platform to organize and act.

 

Like the internet, they are organic. Anonymous has taken the guerrila war model and applied it to the internet. They have no leader, just cells of individuals who agree on a common goal, and take steps to achieve it. This single cell structure allows them to be more like an idea than an organization. You can take down a cell, arrest a few members, but the collective will continue, and probably let you know how unhappy they are you have harmed one of their brothers or sisters. The lack of a leader, or public identity preserves the collective, and allows it to remain pure, because one persons ego or downfall will not slow the whole. It is a living entity, changing and growing.

 

And finally, like the internet, they thrive on the freedom of information. By far the greatest asset of the internet is that anyone with a connection can use it to learn about whatever they so choose. All the worlds books, and art and music can be found and appreciated. If people choose not to use it that way, that is their loss, but this is by far the most powerful educational tool ever created. And that is how Anonymous is doing the greatest good, by using the internet to spread information that the powers that be try to suppress, or by fighting mis-information and quashing the use of the internet to spread evil.

 

How, you might ask, are a bunch of hackers and dissidents, labelled as criminals or cyber terrorists by the main stream media, heroes? Already this year, Anonymous has launched 2 operations that are doing more good than anyone else. The first is #OpIsis. Anonymous launched a campaign to shut down websites, facebook and twitter accounts that Isis was using to spread its propaganda and recruit. Think about that for a minute. If you post a you-tube video with the wrong wording that offends someone, you can be banned from posting, yet Isis can use it to broadcast beheadings and recruit worldwide. Where are the big tech companies when their products are being used to promote death and violence? The silence and lack of action were deafening. Where was the government, who are always so eager to regulate everything, who prosecute people for saying things that hurt people’s feelings or arrest protestors en mass? No where to be found. They were more than happy to shell out billions of dollars to their military subsidiaries, or to spy on average citizens private emails and phone calls, and yet they cannot seem to find activities done in public by Isis, or seem to muster up the concern to have the sites blocked. It took Anonymous, a collection of concerned individuals, to take action against the spread of radicalization on the net. That makes them heroes, for acting when our “leaders” stood by and did nothing.

 

The second operation, #OpDeathEaters, is even more important, for several reasons. It is a concerted effort to expose and force action against child molestors, or peadosadists, as they call them. This operation is vital for many reasons, the first is basic humanity. I admit that I have had difficulty reading some of the information they have released; it is hard to stomach. But finding abusing children disgusting should be the normal reaction, if it doesn’t turn your stomach, there is something wrong with you (to say nothing of the inhumanity of the peadosadists themselves). While it is hard, it is important that this story be told, to honor the survivors. They need to be heard, believed so that they can begin to heal and re-grow, not be re-victimized because of their age, or gender, or socio-economic status.

 

This operation is also of paramount importance, because time after time, they have exposed government complicity in stopping prosecution, if not outrite perpetration themselves. The very people charged with enforcing the law are breaking it, for the most vile kind of criminal on earth. The most famous example is the British Parliament. You would have to be living under the proverbial rock (or have a typical Americans knowledge of world affairs) not to have heard about the child abuse ring that ran to the highest levels of British Government. Not only did they spend years abusing children (sometimes to the point of killing them), but when the police got too close, or hearings were scheduled, the quashed them time and time again. This is wrong on so many levels.

 

Look at the #OpDeathEaters feeds for any country, and there are lots (Canada, U.S., India, you name it) and you see the same pattern. Politicians or governments shutting down investigations. Authority figures, like church leaders and teachers, abusing children under their care. Police ignoring complaints or silencing witnesses, or even worse, slandering those few brave enough to pursue justice. This is worldwide, trafficking of children and child porn is the fastest growing black market in the world. And it will not stop because our governments are complicit in the crime; if they are not commiting it, they are protecting their rich friends and their criminal behaviors and enterprises. This is the reason Anonymous are heroes. We need them to fight back against the very governments that are supposed to be protecting us and our children.

 

Now, the important part. We are all Anonymous, we need to be the heroes. I wrote this essay not for people like me, who know about it, but for people like my mother, who had never even heard of anonymous until I told her about them, and she is as tech savy, and socially aware as I am. We need to spread #OpDeathEaters to all corners of social media, and on to the real world. Not everyone supports hacktivism, but everyone supports ending child abuse. If you read this and are even a little bit moved, spread the message. Find an anonymous feed on twitter, tweet and retweet the hashtag, and not to fellow activists, but to people who would not normally get the message. It might make people uncomfortable, but that’s good, it should, and maybe that discomfort will spur them to become part of the solution. We need to make this so loud that no one can ignore it or cover it up anymore. Anonymous are heroes, not because they wear masks and have cool videos, but because they care enough to stand against what they know is wrong. We are all anonymous. We must all stand against child abuse.