FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - April 18th, 2014 (Traditional territory of Mississauga/Toronto, ON)
Last night a speech by Laureen Harper (wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper) was interrupted with a question about missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) in Canada. Mrs. Harper was in Toronto to introduce “Just for Cats: Internet Cat Video Festival”. The event appears to be part of a larger Conservative strategy to “exploit Laureen Harper's popularity” to win re-election in 2015. However, the PR exercise was unexpectedly disrupted when Hailey King, a 21-year-old student and volunteer at a local women’s centre interrupted Harper’s speech to ask the following question:
“Raising awareness about cat welfare is a good look for your husband’s upcoming campaign strategy. Don’t you think supporting government action on missing and murdered indigenous women in this country would be a better look?”
Sporting black cat ears, Laureen Harper dismissed the young woman’s question saying “We’re raising money for animals tonight. If you’d like to donate to animals, we’d love to take your money.” and added “That’s a great cause, perhaps another night. Tonight we’re here for homeless cats!”
The young woman was immediately forced to leave the event by Harper’s security detail, despite the fact that King had paid to attend. This account illuminates the response that families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have been hearing for decades from colonial governments.
According to StatsCan, Indigenous women and girls are three and a half times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women — and seven times more likely to be murdered. The response from Mrs. Harper is just one example of the value colonial governments place on the lives of Indigenous women and that we cannot rely on colonial law and order approaches to change the realities of MMIW.
“As a white woman I recognize that this is not just an Indigenous issue. We should all be horrified by this epidemic of racist sexual violence. The United Nations, Canada's own premiers and people across the country are demanding more action on the issue. Yet this government is failing to act.” said King.
This action takes place in the wake of mounting public pressure for government accountability. The last two months have seen marches and vigils across the country and several arrests related to a series of Via rail blockades in Shannonville, Marysville and Toronto. Indigenous communities continue toorganize their own responses to colonial gender violence, after decades of ineffective responses from the government and responses such as Mrs. Harpers.
“Mrs. Harper’s dismissal and diversion of the issue of MMIW is reflective of the priority given to this current crisis and just how insignificant Indigenous women’s lives are to the Harper government. Cats are cute and all but wouldn’t it be more helpful for the wife of the PM to actually be concerned about addressing an issue that affects women all across this country such as the lives of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls?” states Melina Laboucan-Massimo, whose sister is the most recent Indigenous woman in Toronto to have lost her life with her death still under investigation and listed as suspicious. “My family deals with this issue every night - leaving this issue unaddressed and relegated to “another night” is inadequate and quite frankly insensitive.”
“We don’t believe it is enough to just simply call out the government. The current structure and systems of colonialism are what continue to allow for colonial gender violence. That is why #ItStartsWithUs, addressing the issue of MMIW through community organizing each and every day. We must nurture self-determined responses from Indigenous communities and families.”Krysta Williams from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.
For media inquiries:
Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator
Krysta Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
SUPPORT THE NATIVE YOUTH SEXUAL HEALTH NETWORK:
No More Silence is creating a community run database documenting violent deaths of Indigenous women/Two-Spirit and Trans. Read more here.