Sisters In Spirit: Are There Really 600 Missing Native Women? (feat. Libby Davies, David Eby & Iran)

Sisters in Spirit gathering in 2011 (supposedly 1 year after funding was cut)

Sisters in Spirit gathering in 2011 (1 year after funding was cut)

A report came out on Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House that called to question the actual number of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. The current (mostly) accepted number, approximately 600, is based on a report created in 2010 by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. The NWAC was commissioned and funded to create the report by the federal government’s Status of Women Canada.

When CBC reporters contacted the RCMP and asked them for comment they were met with a few big surprises. First, the NWAC claimed there were 580 missing women- not the commonly used 600. Even more surprising is that the RCMP claims that the NWAC’s Sisters In Spirit (SIS) campaign only provided them with a list of 118 alleged victims. Next, the discrepancy gets worse- the RCMP claims that 54 of the NWAC’s 118 submitted victims are not listed in police databases as missing or murdered.

So, what’s going on here, whose numbers are right- the RCMP’s or the SIS report? My inner technical architect tells me it’s very likely that the RCMP have an incomplete list of victims- Canada has numerous municipal, provincial and federal law enforcement agencies, it can be hard to keep and update data from so many sources. But, after some quick investigation, it appears there are also some glaring discrepancies in the NWAC’s work.

The report profiles a number of heartwrenching stories of missing and murdered indigenous women. Reading through them, it’s hard not to be deeply affected (for good reason, each missing person is a tragedy). They also kept a list of missing women on their webpage- curiously, there are only six women on it.

The woman who stands out most is Amber Redman. Amber was the first person profiled in the report, she was listed as missing since 2005. Unfortunately Amber is no longer missing, her remains were discovered in 2008. The NWAC’s webpage (and a number of other websites) still list Amber as missing- it must be tragic for her family and friends to see her still her face still posted across the Internet.

Virginia Sue Pictou-Noyes is also listed as missing and she is, indeed, a genuine missing person. That said, she went missing in Bangor Maine, not Canada- so it’s unlikely the RCMP will have a report. Interestingly, according to a story in the Bangor News in 2012, people are claiming to have seen Virginia alive in spiritual ‘vision quests’. Let’s hope for her family this is true.

Daleen Kay Bosse disappeared from a Saskatoon night club in 2005- she’s also listed as missing. What the list doesn’t tell us is that Daleen’s body was found in 2008. Daleen’s tragedy was made worse on the discovery that the murder tried to burn her body afterwards. Horrible.

The story of Lee-Ann Chyoweth-Pawis is a much happier one. When searching her name I discovered a family member asking for Lee-Ann’s name to be removed from another list of missing women as she was found alive. I called the Midland Ontario police and they confirmed that Lee-Ann is not on a list of missing people.

The last missing person they list is Allyson Ball from Winnipeg. I’ve not confirmed this information but, according to a report on, it appears that Allyson has also been found.

The NWAC’s online list of missing women is only a small sample- six missing women and girls out of their publicised 580 (including the mere 118 disclosed to the RCMP). But, of those six, four of the women aren’t actually missing. And, one of them went missing in the US (though she has connections to Canada). Only one of the women went missing in Canada, and is still actually missing. A one-in-five accuracy rate is not a good ratio.

People who are trying to shield the NWAC make the very valid point that funding for the SIS program was terminated in 2010 and their list hasn’t been updated since. This has been taken into account in the above research- in four cases where the women aren’t still missing, the information was available as long ago as 2008- both from public sources, and from the police forces the NWAC lists on their page. The lack of updated information in their list can therefore not be attributed to the cuts in the NWAC’s funding.

There are so many problems with this situation that it’s difficult to know where to start fixing it. First, and most import, there are some serious questions that need to be answered about Canada’s ability to identify and find missing people. Is the RCMP’s data actually correct? If not, what needs to be done to fix the problem? If so, why are some people trying to paint a different narrative?

The number 600 has become a rallying cry for people who’ve been actively trying to cause division within indigenous communities. Radical Trotskyites like Harsha Walia of No One Is Illegal are actively promoting that the number is possibly magnitudes higher while marching 100’s of women down the streets. White saviour politicians connected with these radicals like NDP MP Libby Davies and NDP hopeful David Eby regularly recite the number 600. It seems that everyone who wants to get political benefit is happy to quote the ISS report- despite the fact that the majority of names haven’t been released.

It’s not only Canadians who are taking advantage of the ISS report- the Iranian government has joined in too. Iran’s PressTV has given extensive coverage to the report- beginning last year when first nations (ex) chief Terry Nelson flew to Tehran to meet with the Iranian government. PressTV has been producing intentionally inaccurate reports on Canadian first nations issues for at least the past year. They even broadcast a story stating that the Canadian government was intentionally killing-off west coast salmon in order to commit genocide on British Columbia’s first nations (two associates of No One Is Illegal were involved).

This situation appears to be reminiscent of what happened in the Kevin Annett affair. Annett made grandiose claims of mass graves of residential school survivors and exorcisms that damaged the Vatican. The leaders on the left grasped onto his story, despite all of the gaps and illogic. Their intention was to use Annett’s work to fan the flames of discontent in indigenous communities- it wasn’t important to them to confirm the truthfulness of his stories.

It’s an insult to the missing and to their families that we can’t even agree on the numbers. It’s an even bigger insult that activists and politicians have been politicising numbers of dead and missing when the numbers aren’t transparent and/or understood. Leaving-up inaccurate notices for missing people is like pouring salt into their family’s wounds.

All of the names from the ISS database need to be disclosed to the RCMP, and to all other government agencies in the chain of responsibility for missing persons cases. The ISS has not released at least 562 names of the people they’ve claimed to be missing or killed, they were under contract to the government to compile this information- it belongs to the public.

Last, the abandonment of maintaining the ISS database and website has been done in an incredibly irresponsible manner. Leaving the names of found people on a missing person’s list doesn’t only hamper the efforts to find the others- with people still posting their names and pictures across the Internet it’s will be hard for their families to heal and move on. This requires immediate remediation.

The government needs to take immediate action to compile an accurate count of Canada’s missing and murdered people. Politicians and others who have been politicising the ISS’s numbers should stand-up, take responsibility, and ensure this is done post-haste. Anything less is an insult to us all.

End Notes:

  • Regardless of what the actual count is- very single missing and murdered person is a tragedy. We should in no way allow inaccuracies in the reporting to deflect from the real problems being experienced. Also, I’m not denying the possibility the number could be higher- let’s hope that’s not true.
  • It appears that Amnesty International has removed their page for the Stolen Sisters campaign- here’s an archived copy.
  • There’s an interesting CrowdMap that’s connected to compiling a list of missing, killed and others.
  • Finally, if you’re wondering why featured Davies & Eby on this article, it’s because the CBC wasn’t brave enough to name names in their article- they only said that the number 600 was quoted on the floor of the House of Commons. I will always make it my duty to strive to be more brave than the CBC.


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