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'Groundbreaking' report calls for national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women

“This report exposes the Harper government for violating the rights of indigenous women and girls in this country,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip

'Groundbreaking' report calls for national inquiry into missing and murdered abo
Photo of Ottawa Vigil For Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada (in August) by Obert Madondo via Flickr.

A new ‘groundbreaking’ investigation calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released an in-depth report today after more than two years of investigating the cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. According to Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and Feminist Alliance for International Action’s Dawn Harvard (who spoke at a press conference), this report is the first in-depth examination of the murders and disappearances by an expert human rights body.

“This report is groundbreaking because it finds that Canada is obligated under Human Rights law to prevent the violence by taking measures to deal with poverty, access to housing and employment and disproportionate criminalization,” said (FAFIA) Human Rights Committee’s Shelagh Day at a press conference.

Indigenous women and girls in Canada have been murdered or have gone missing at a rate four times higher than non-indigenous women, despite aboriginal people only making up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population. 

“This report exposes the Harper government for violating the rights of indigenous women and girls in this country,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “This report says very clearly that Canada has legal obligations to effectively deal with the social economic contributing factors that put indigenous women and girls at risk.”

In order for Canada to meet its obligations, the IACHR made several recommendations, which includes:

  • Providing access to legal aid and support services for families of missing or murdered indigenous women.
  • Mandatory and ongoing training for police officers and public sector functionaries (such as judges and prosecutors) in the causes of gender-based violence.
  • Developing data collection systems that collect accurate statistics on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Canada is also obligated to prevent the violence. In order to do that, Canada must address the risk factors, and it must address the underlying discrimination, noted Day.

“The [IACHR] Commission made a key finding of fact,” said Women’s Advocate for the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council’s (which represents Indigenous people in Northern B.C.) Mavis Erickson in a release. “The Commission concluded that the root cause of the high levels of violence against indigenous women lie in a history of discrimination beginning with colonization and continuing through laws and policies such as the Indian Act and residential schools.”

The RCMP estimated nearly 1,200 aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the past three decades, while non-profit group NWAC gathered information regarding 582 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls across the country from the past 30 years (as of 2010).  British Columbia accounts for 160 out of the 582 cases, 28 per cent of the total database, and it is followed by Alberta with 93 cases.

It’s important for the Canadian public, aboriginals and non-aboriginals, to understand what the real depth and root cause of this problem is through this report, Day mentioned, so the nation can collectively make a change and put pressure on both the provincial and national government.

“Changing the government will make a difference, but I don’t know how much of a difference,” said Human Rights Committee’s Sharon McIvor. “We’ve got to look at that [history] and understand that the perspective of history that most Canadians have [regarding indigenous people] is not a proper perspective ”

The Conservative government said it is more interested in taking action on the issue than launching a national inquiry. Although the government refused the call for the inquiry, it put forth a $25-million action plan on violence against aboriginal women and girls last fall.

Chief Stewart Phillip said it is an “absolute national disgrace and is totally unacceptable” that indigenous women are more at risk of being murdered and going missing than any other citizen in this country. Opening up a nation-wide discussion on the issue will help move the inquiry forward, he added.

“There will be a national inquiry,” he said, “but the question is, will Mr. Harper be in government when it happens. That’s the real question.”

A national roundtable on the issue is being organized to take place Feb. 27 in Ottawa.

Photo of (from left) NWAC and FAFIA’s Gwen Brodsky, Sharon McIvor, Shelagh Day and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip responding to the IACHR report, by Sindhu Dharmarajah.

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