The RCMP is using social media to highlight 10 cases of missing aboriginal women in a week-long effort to help them solve outstanding cases. Two of the ten missing women, Maisy Odjick (left) and Shannon Alexander (right), were remembered during the Sisters In Spirit rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday Oct.4, 2013. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
The RCMP are calling on the public to help them solve 10 outstanding cases of missing aboriginal women in Canada through a weeklong social media campaign that started on Monday.
The Mounties have been using their Twitter and Facebook accounts to highlight two specific cases of missing aboriginal women per day from across the country. Each post calls on the public to help them find women whose cases are featured on the website.
In an interview with CBC News, Supt. Tyler Bates, the director of national aboriginal policing and crime prevention services, said "the 10 cases were selected primarily based on geography, to feature cases from all parts of Canada."
Bates said the initiative is an opportunity "to try and get some of the faces of women that have left and not come back, and really get those into the social consciousness of Canadians."
The RCMP's weeklong social media campaign coincides with the visit to Canada by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
When asked by CBC News whether the social media campaign was timed around Anaya's visit, Bates said "it wasn't a consideration. It's certainly coincidental, I would say."
Anaya is now on his fourth day of a nine-day visit to take stock of the progress that has been made since 2003 when his predecessor last visited Canada. His itinerary includes meetings with government and indigenous representatives.
"The RCMP is one of the agencies that is visited by the special rapporteur," Bates said.
- Rallies honour missing, murdered aboriginal women and girls
The campaign, according to Bates, was launched on Monday to build on last Friday's Sisters in Spirit rallies that took place in over 200 locations across the country. The vigil has become a yearly event organized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada for the past eight years on Oct. 4.
The NWAC told CBC News it is supportive of the campaign, which could generate tips to help the police solve these cases.
Two of the eight women highlighted to date by the RCMP's social media campaign include the cases of MaisyOdjick and Shannon Alexander, two teenage friends who went missing from Maniwaki, Que., on Sept. 6, 2008.
The Canada's Missing website says Maisy spent the night at Shannon’s house and that Shannon’s father was the last person to have seen his daughter.
Laurie Odjick, Maisy's mother, attended the Sisters in Spirit rally on the steps of Parliament Hill last Friday. She was seen holding a picture of Maisy, who disappeared at the age of 16.
Both Maisy and Shannon were remembered during the Sisters in Spirit rally on Parliament Hill.
Each case on the Canada’s Missing website includes information about the missing person and the circumstances around their disappearance. Canadians can print off a poster to display in a public place.
This is the second time the Mounties have used social media to help them solve open cases. In May, the RCMP posted five profiles of missing children to coincide with National Missing Children's Day.
"We expect there will be other opportunities to post other profiles and utilize social media in a similar manner down the road," Bates said.
Conservative MP calls for national public inquiry
Conservative MP Ryan Leef has pledged his support of a national public inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
In a letter posted on the MP's website on Tuesday, Leef said, "I have joined the voice of Yukon citizens asking for a National Inquest on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women."
In his letter, Leef acknowledged the prime minister's skepticism of commissions, saying "inquests can provide some challenges, and in the worst cases they fail to honour the victims and the families seeking closure, answers, and solutions."
The Yukon MP said he is in favour of the federal government calling a national public inquiry if it's to be in partnership with the provinces, territories, and First Nations leaders.
"I believe that a meaningful and complete inquest requires the participation both in human resource and financial terms from the provinces, territories, and the First Nation governments," Leef said.
In taking this position, Leef is straying from the party line, as the federal government has refused to call a national public inquiry.
In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Bernard Valcourt, the aboriginal affairs minister, said that inquiries are for those who want to hide behind the pretext of taking action.
"When people and when governments do not want to take actions, what do they do? They study and they inquire," Valcourt said.
"An inquiry would not bring anything more than we already know. So instead of further study and spinning our wheels, let's take action."
The minister said that's why the federal government adopted, following the 2010 budget, a seven-point strategy to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Valcourt conceded the strategy isn't "perfect" but that the federal government has been working in conjunction with provincial, territorial, and municipal levels of governments to address an issue "no one [Canadian] can stomach."
In an email to CBC News on Thursday, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the federal government had made progress "on all seven points of this strategy."
"Our government has provided funding to support the development of programs aimed at reducing vulnerability to violence of young aboriginal women and girls, increased the accessibility and number of culturally appropriate victims services for aboriginal victims of crime, and passed legislation that gives women living in First Nations reserves the same matrimonial rights as all Canadians," Paloma Aguilar, the press secretary for the justice minister said.
New RCMP database coming in 2014
Valcourt also told CBC News the RCMP was playing a role in the strategy to address the issue of missing women.
A new RCMP database, as first reported by CBC's Alison Crawford this summer, will help police co-ordinate investigations into missing persons and unidentified remains.
The database, expected to be launched in the coming months, will allow officers to upload more detailed cultural information about victims — a level of detail national aboriginal organizations have been calling for.
Supt. Bates told CBC News the database will be "up and running" in 2014.
The NWAC has said it has documented over 600 cases where aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing between 2005 and 2010 — a number the RCMP told CBC News it could not confirm.
Bates said the RCMP can't confirm that number because they police approximately 20 per cent of Canadian territory.
The RCMP are one of over 200 police agencies that police the country and as such "are not the gateholders, so to speak, of that information," Bates said.
He said the Mounties started a province by province file review of homicides involving aboriginal women within RCMP jurisdiction in February.
According to Bates, the RCMP are working with the NWAC to ensure that "if there's an investigation that needs to be initiated, that we obtain the data needed to do so."
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