The wife of Canada’s prime minister has been caught out on the issue of the hundreds of women who have gone missing or whose murders are unsolved in Canada over the past four decades, many of whom are Aboriginal. Laureen Harper challenged a 21 year old activist who interrupted her speech at a black-tie event in Toronto on April 17 that was raising funds for… stray cats.

“Mrs. Harper, raising awareness of about cat welfare is a good look for your husband’s upcoming campaign strategy,” activist Hailey King called out, disrupting Harper’s speech. “Don’t you think supporting an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women would be a better look?” 

Harper shot back, “We’re raising money for animals tonight. If you’d like to donate to animals, we’d love to take your money.”

She paused ever so briefly and then addressed the issue raised by King: “That’s a great cause, but tonight we’re here for homeless cats.”

Harper’s husband is the prime minister who is resisting calls by Aboriginal women and so many other human rights advocates for a public inquiry into more than 800 missing or murdered women.

Activists with ‘Shit Harper Did’ have released a video, here, of Laureen Harper’s callous dismissal of Hailey King’s concerns.

In February, leaked Conservative Party documents obtained by the Toronto Star showed that party strategy for the 2015 federal election will include exploiting Laureen Harper’s popularity. The paper reported: “Under ‘Tactical Plans/Strategies,’ it says the party will ‘Connect PM with people’, ‘Leverage Mrs. Harper’ and launch a ‘With Mrs. Harper’ video series among others to put a more human face on the government and grab eyeballs in the digital age.”

Canada is currently under investigation by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women for its treatment of Aboriginal women. The investigation was requested by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action because of government inaction on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, among other concerns.

Canada is one of only two countries to be formally investigated by CEDAW. The other is Mexico in 2003-2004, in response to the murders of women occurring in the state of Chihauhua.

One year ago, following investigations in northern BC, the international agency Human Rights Watch issued an explosive, 89-page report stating that Canada’s federal police force is failing in its duty to protect women and girls in the north of the province. The report accused the RCMP itself of sexist and violent conduct against women, whose rights the police force is supposed to be protecting.

One of the recommendations in 2012 of the BC government inquiry into murdered Aboriginal women in the province (‘Pickton Inquiry’) was to establish public transportation along the ‘Highway of Tears’ in northern BC. That’s the 700 km stretch of Highway 16 that connects Prince George in the BC interior to Prince Rupert on the northwest coast. An estimated two dozen women have gone missing along the highway over the past several decades.

Public transportation along the route is poor or non-existent. Cuts to VIA Rail passenger service by previous Conservative governments in Ottawa (left untouched by succeeding Liberal regimes) eliminated daily service more than 20 years ago. Poor women have historically been left dependent on hitchhiking to get around. A recent Globe and Mail article reports that women are still obliged to resort to hitchhiking, notwithstanding all the awareness and concern generated by the cases of disappeared women.

The Highway of Tears is geographically proximate to the proposed tar sands (Northern Gateway) and fracked natural gas pipeline routes to run from Alberta or northeast BC to the province’s northwest coast. In the regressive, fossil-fuel corrupted Canada of 2014, there’s loads of money and regulatory approval for pipelines available, but funding for life-saving bus and train service for poor and Aboriginal people is a non-starter. Even the harsh judgements of the BC inquiry into murdered Aboriginal women and human rights agencies such as CEDAW and Human Rights Watch are not enough to spark action by federal and provincial governments or concern by a prime minister’s wife.

Who will be surprised as more and more popular revolts such as Idle No More spring up against these awful injustices?

See: Ten unheeded calls for a Canadian inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous  women, by David P. Ball, published in Indian Country Today, Feb 11, 2014.

Roger Annis

Roger Annis

Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) and its Vancouver affiliate, Haiti Solidarity BC. He has visited Haiti in August 2007 and June 2011. He is a frequent writer and...