After the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women released its final report this week, you may have seen a statistic claiming Indigenous men killed 70 per cent of murdered Indigenous women.
The number was cited by white nationalist Faith Goldy, former editor-in-chief of The Walrus magazine Jonathan Kay and reams of others on social media who sought to undermine the report's finding that Canada's treatment of Indigenous people is genocide.
Problem is, there’s no published research that supports the figure. It's based on years of sloppily collected RCMP data that doesn't examine the actual problems underlying violence against Indigenous women, and is grounded in racist assumptions about Indigenous people.
"What we have is people cherrypicking evidence and choosing evidence that supports their point of view without sharing with the public the limitations of what they're relying on, or putting that information in context," said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and member of the Gitksan First Nation.
"It's really disturbing to me, because how are we to engender an understanding in Canadians about the experiences and the contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people when there's this kind of fabricated evidence being shared around?"
The federal government began the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in late 2015, and appointed five commissioners the following August. For three years, the inquiry studied systemic violence against Indigenous women and girls, delivering its final report and recommendations Monday.
The final report included an entire section devoted to debunking the 70 per cent figure: "The often-cited statistic that Indigenous men are responsible for 70 per cent of murders of Indigenous women and girls is not factually based," it concluded.
According to the inquiry, the statistic first surfaced in March 2015 when then-Indigenous affairs minister Bernard Valcourt mentioned it in a meeting with several chiefs in Calgary, several months after claiming the issue with on-reserve violence was a lack of respect for women. The next month, then-RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson released a statement confirming the stat. However, the RCMP never divulged how it arrived at the number, which was never included in any official reports.
On Friday, reacting to a news story based on an advanced copy of the MMWIG report, Valcourt said on Twitter that the findings were "propagandist" and said it had come to a "thunderous silly conclusion." (The Conservative party later distanced itself, with Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, the shadow minister of Indigenous affairs, tweeting that Valcourt's comments were "unacceptable" and didn't represent the party's views.)
The inquiry's report also noted that, up until very recently, RCMP didn't even record whether victims or offenders were Indigenous. And such data that does exist was reported inconsistently. "The RCMP have not proven to Canada that they are capable of holding themselves to account — and, in fact, many of the truths shared here speak to ongoing issues of systemic and individual racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination that prevent honest oversight from taking place," the report said.
The 70 per cent figure also fails to account for the numerous missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls whose deaths weren't recorded as homicides, and leaves out unsolved cases, the inquiry found. After reviewing cases, the inquiry "believes that there were repeated instances... of police mischaracterizing disappearances and deaths as 'not suspicious," the report said.
Have you seen the claim that Indigenous men killed 70 per cent of murdered Indigenous women? It's false, and relies on inaccurate data and racist assumptions. #cdnpoli #MMIWG
"The fact is, that number is not substantiated," said commissioner Qajaq Robinson, a Nunavut-raised lawyer, who is not Indigenous. "It's also quite concerning that (this) kind of number and that kind of determination is being made when it's so clear that the data is incredibly unreliable."
Underlying the spread of the 70 per cent myth is a racist assumption that Indigenous people are inherently violent or uncivil, said Robert Henry, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary who studies Indigenous justice issues. It allows people who believe it to blame Indigenous men rather than examining their own roles in colonialism as it manifests today — something that must happen if society is to change in any meaningful way, he added.
"(The false statistic) maintains the idea that Indigenous men and Indigenous people are ... doing it to themselves and it's not part of the larger structural issues of colonialism that have impacted Indigenous people," Henry said. "We need the broader Canadian society to unlearn what we've learned and understand that we're all complicit in this."
Though it's wonderful that Canadians are engaging with the ideas in the report, Robinson said, it's "quite concerning" that some are quibbling over the finer points rather than figuring how to fix the enormous problems at play.
"Making those kinds of statements is dangerous and it mischaracterizes the situation," she added. "Debating semantics isn't going to get us there."
After the inquiry's final report was released, current RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki promised that the organization would review its findings and recommendations.
Violence does happen between Indigenous men and women, said Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, but it's also important to understand the role intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism plays in that violence — the effects of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, among other things, contribute to the cycle of violence.
The inquiry report also said men's healing must be part of the reconciliation process.
"It's not to excuse the behaviour," Blackstock said. "People need to be accountable and that behavior needs to end, but it is an additional contextual factor."