Discreditable Conduct

Ottawa has confirmed its 9th homicide of the year, matching the number of murders that we had for the entirety of 2009. The body of Jennifer Leigh Stewart, a 36 year-old street prostitute with a drug habit, was found in a Vanier parking lot. Jennifer died of multiple stab wounds, not at all unlike 27 year-old Kelly Morrisseau, who was found stabbed to death in a Gatineau parking lot in 2007.

The similaritis are anything but surprising. Both women were troubled by drug addiction, earned money to fuel their habit by turning tricks in Vanier, and leave behind young children. Left behind is another similarity: the person responsible for their deaths still roams the streets free, and will likely remain free. After all, both of these women were prostitutes.

And, both were Aboriginal.

We are taught as children that life is something sacred. I didn’t grow up in the roaring era of bigotry and racism that saw blacks segregated from whites, so my experiences with racism have been a lot less overt. I think, in some ways, the fact that the racism I have witnessed is more discrete makes it all the more insidious. The fact that people hide their racism implies that they know that it’s wrong, or unacceptable, and carry on anyways. You can’t hide what you’re too ignorant to know you should hide.

As human beings it is assumed that on some basic level we are all equal and deserving of the same basic consideration. It’s a beautiful lie, and a poetic balm to the feelings of inequality that we struggle with through our daily lives. No matter what constitutions and charters say, we aren’t equal in any way. Society exists as a hierarchy. I’m not saying it’s right, or wrong, but the simple fact that we all live, breathe, eat and sleep does not make us social equals. And, that’s really what matters here: as organisms, we might all be the same, but in society there are different strata of importance and worth.

We’re all dirty little selfish creatures striving to climb to the upper crust.

Think I’m mistaken? Have a look at some statistics:

  • In approximately 10% of Canada’s female homicides, the victim was an Aboriginal female, even though Aboriginal women only account for 3% of the Canadian female population
  • Aboriginal women 15 and older are more than three and a half times more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women
  • 54% of Aboriginal women report having been sexually assaulted, compared to 37% in non-Aboriginal women

    I heard in an interview on CBC a couple morning’s ago a statistic cited that the case closure rate is nearly half for Aboriginal victims than it is for non-Aboriginal. And, prostitutes are easily overlooked. Look how long Robert Picton was left to roam free and continue killing, even after one of the prostitutes escaped with her life to report the attack.

    It goes without saying that prostitutes lead more dangerous lives to begin with. It goes without saying that being a drug addict increases risk. It also goes without saying that the poverty level in the Aboriginal community, the incidence of drug abuse and the fact that prostitution either leads to or fund drug addiction all make Aboriginal women more prone to danger than the average non-Aoriginal woman. And, I will be the first to concede that it’s got to be more difficult for police to solve crimes against prostitutes because of the environment the work and live in. I’m not here to claim I know the level of effort the police put into solving those crimes, either.

    I don’t know, but I suspect.

    Quite simply, if you ask the person next to you what they think about the murder of a street prostitute, the degree of emotion in their response will be greatly diminished from the response they would give if you asked about the murder of a teacher or librarian. Simply put, a lot of people think that prostitutes get what they’re asking for, essentially. I mean, you lead a life of crime, you suffer the consequences. “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” I’ll be the first to admit that I have less sympathy for a drug addict who dies of an overdose than I do for a person killed crossing the street.

    Murder is murder, though. I don’t care if you are a school teacher or a hooker, nobody has the right to stab you to death and leave you in a parking lot to bleed out. If life is sacred, all life is sacred. The same effort should be put forth to find the perpetrator of a crime against a prostitute as against a business woman.

    The fact that we treat the murders of Jennifer Leigh Stewart and Kelly Morrisseau differently than the deaths of Jane Creba in Toronto or Jennifer Teague from Barrhaven is disgusting. Doing so creates a circumstance within which your life can be deemed less vital and valuable. The specific reason we use to justify the devaluing of a person’s life is pretty open to debate, then, isn’t it? You could say the person isn’t as important because they are poor. Or, because they are female. Or, because they are black. Or, Jewish…

    Wait, this all sounds familiar…

    Street prostitutes in Vanier claim that they are looking out for eachother as best they can because they know there is someone with a knife driving the streets picking up girls. He’s already shown the knife to a couple women. Maybe he’s the one that killed Jennifer, maybe not. But, I bet if women working on Bank street told police someone was driving around downtown flashing a knife at women, something would have been done by now.

    But, then, some people matter more than others, and people working on Bank street pay more in taxes.


    Report on Aboriginal Women Released
    The Ottawa Citizen: “She didn’t deserve to die like this”

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