RCMP Uses Social Media to Bring Missing Aboriginal Women Home

Martha Troian

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) teamed up with the Native Women’s Association of Canada this week on a social media campaign designed to increase awareness of cases involving missing indigenous women.

From October 7 through 11, the RCMP is highlighting 10 cases—two per day—featured on its Canada’s Missing website and sharing this information via the RCMP’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Each case on the website profiles a missing person, with a poster, a brief description and a photo gallery. 

The campaign ends today, and the RCMP is urging everyone to everyone to “Like” and Tweet about it from their own Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as to link to the Canada’s Missing page. 

The initiative comes at a crucial time, just as James Anaya, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, begins his nine-day tour across Canada to assess the conditions of its Indigenous Peoples, including the issue of the 600 or more women who have disappeared or been murdered over several decades, their cases unsolved.

The RCMP's primary objective is to raise awareness and solicit tips from the public. It's an initiative of the force's National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR).

“We’re looking at doing different initiatives involving our website throughout the year,” said Sergeant Lana Prosper, a non-commissioned officer in charge of the national missing persons and unidentified remains operations. “Right now we have nothing definitely planned but that’s not to say we won’t be doing this again.”

In 2010–2011 the RCMP received $10 million from the federal government over a five-year period for initiatives that address missing and murdered women. One of the projects was to set up the Canada missing website.

“Our job now is to gather as much information on those deliverables that we can provide that back to the RCMP management as well as Public Safety Canada, and at the end of the five-year time frame, it will be up to them to make the determination on further funding,” said Prosper.

The 10 million was used for personnel, setting up the database that is currently being developed (available for law enforcement and coroner medical examines only) and for the website. The national center will be fully staffed by the end of this year, with 16 positions. Prosper noted that some of these positions were already filled by staff from the national missing children's operations.

Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered and been over-represented as victims of violence in Canada for decades.

According to NWAC, as of 2010 there were more than 600 missing and murdered indigenous women. But despite the high and growing number of disappearances and deaths, the RCMP does not have a specific unit for these cases.

“RCMP is a bias-free organization, we investigate all cases of missing and murdered persons within our jurisdiction equally,” said Tyler Bates, director of the National Aboriginal Policing and Crime Prevention Services with the RCMP. “To isolate one particular category … we have to make sure we imply equal effort to all investigations of missing and murdered persons.”

The RCMP also reminded people that they investigate all cases regardless of sex, ethnicity, background or lifestyle. There are a number of projects devoted to investigations, mostly in western Canada, that are actively reviewing all cases of missing women, including indigenous women. They include Project DEVOTE (Manitoba), Project E-PANA (northern/central British Columbia) and Project EVEN-HANDED (Vancouver). In addition, families recently joined together to create their own database.

RELATED: Taking Control: Indigenous in Canada Compile Own Database on Missing and Murdered Women

“We have large teams dedicated to reviewing files of missing women, including aboriginal women,” said Bates. “You can’t look at one particular group and file apart from the others—you might miss potential linkages.”

Earlier this year the RCMP could only confirm 64 of the 118 names the Native Women’s Association of Canada had handed over from its database. The RCMP also had concerns about the database’s accuracy and whether there were indeed more than 500 potential victims, as the Native Women’s Association had found.

“As far as having a precise number of murdered and missing women in Canada, that is a very large and complex issue when you consider the 200-plus law enforcement agencies that would have to contribute to that precise number,” said Bates. “We don’t gather and collect and report on other jurisdictions.”

Bates emphasized that the RCMP is seeing success when it comes to the development of best practices, information sharing, file manage and file coordination.

Bates said the investigations are also being met with success. For instance, since 1932 the RCMP has solved 70 percent of murders of indigenous women within their jurisdictions. More recently, for indigenous women murdered between 2006 and 2013, the rate is 82 percent. The RCMP did not say how many Indigenous women these figures were drawn from.

“We have a roughly a 70 percent solve rate as far as homicides occurring within our jurisdiction historically for women of aboriginal missing,” Bates said, adding that they are always looking to improve whether that be data collection or investigative processes.

More on the campaign can be found here.