Joshua Houle received a sentence of eight years for the stabbing and dismembering of Misty Ward over a year ago. The crime was a horrible act of violence in which Crown Prosecutor Robert Beck pointed out Houle warned Misty Ward "he had a history of waking up violently if he was startled awake."
Misty Ward did nothing wrong but to merely attempt to arouse a friend from a deep slumber. It was in that one simple act her life was taken within the blink of an eye.
This is becoming a more common story, as Aboriginal women are five to seven times more likely than other women to die at the hands of violence. As well, 56 percent of violent incidents committed against aboriginal people are perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim.
The Native Women's Association of Canada points out aboriginal women face discrimination increasingly as they are socially and economically marginalized from society. It is this marginalization that makes them more vulnerable and susceptible to violence. In their 2010 research, they estimated there were 582 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women within Canada.
Misty Ward was,unknowingly, vulnerable to such violence the moment she let Joshua Houle sleep on her couch. Yet, we look to the justice system to send the message that such violence will not be tolerated and expect long-term sentencing for such a horrific crime.
In this instance this was not the case, as Joshua Houle will be a free man at the age of 36 and will have time to rebuild his life. What message does the criminal justice system send when a young life is taken and there is no just punishment? The judgement failed all aboriginal women by refusing to take a stand and say this is not acceptable and it failed by refusing to hold the plaintiff fully accountable for his actions. It singles out the fact that the court system fails to recognize violence towards aboriginal women as a serious crime.
As the headlines fade and Misty Ward becomes another silent statistic many of us turn away wondering when things will change. She is another story of the countless victims who have had their lives taken too soon due to senseless acts of violence. Violence which has become an epidemic and plagues many aboriginal women.
It's time to give a voice to the silent statistics of violence and recognize that each of these women is more than just a number. They are women who have loved, lived, and laughed. All gone too soon and missed by the ones who love them. Misty Ward and the women before her are more than just a statistic they are the silent voices which remind us that it is time for change.