Local Aboriginal women outraged by Canada's refusal to heed UN recommendations

Lorelei Williams in front of a booth at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Event in Vancouver. All photographs by Krystle Alarcon

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Elissa Golberg, has rejected a comprehensive review recommended by the UN that would delve further into over 600 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The UN Human Rights Council is conducting its Universal Period Review of Canada's rights record on a wide range of issues including poverty and violence. Canada has refused 40 out of 162 UN recommendations, including a national sweeping review of violence against Aboriginal women, and this has angered local women.

The decision was made while thousands were gathering in Vancouver for  B.C. Truth and Reconciliation Week to address, among other matters, the detrimental effects that Indian residential schools have had on First Nations people.

“That’s so hypocritical, what the ambassador said. We’re here on Truth and Reconciliation and what comes out of her mouth is exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish here," said Anita Chubb-Kennedy, a residential school survivor from the Cree Nation in Gods Lake Narrows, Manitoba.

Chubb-Kennedy has volunteered with a variety of groups advocating for homeless people and Aboriginal women living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver since 1991. When her mother was on her death bed, Chubb-Kennedy promised she would make change for the Aboriginal community.

Pleas fall on deaf ears

She lives in Burnaby, but dedicates her time to the Downtown Eastside “because it’s Canada’s poorest area code,” she told a Vancouver Observer reporter.

From 1998-2001, she participated in the Woodsquat, where residents occupied the iconic, flagship building of the Woodwards department store chain after it went out of business.  The 'squat' was a very successful campaign that highlighted the need for more social housing in the area. In 2000, she produced part of a play about cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in the neighborhood.

Anita Chubb-Kennedy showing off earrings she crafted at aTruth and Reconciliation event. Photo by Krystle Alarcon

Chubb-Kennedy has written letters in the past to Mayor Gregor Robertson and she has met with Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu to talk about some of the problems she’s seen. But her pleas have fallen on deaf ears, she says. She believes most politicians and bureaucrats are not qualified to look into the human rights abuses of Aboriginal people, she said. She wants to “toss them out” and replace them with people who have the expertise to do their jobs properly.

There's a general problem of neglect of those whom officials don't fully value as people, particularly on the part of the police, she said. “I’ve never been a hooker and if ever I go missing I don’t want the police to say ‘Oh I don’t want to waste time.’ That’s one of the problems that we run into when we try to correct the situation with these politicians,” she said.

And witnesses fear they will court trouble themselves by coming forward with information on murder cases. “It’s very dangerous and very difficult with people being scared to come forward, with what they see and what they heard. And you have to convince them that they won’t be hurt, so that’s another block,” she added.

Lorelei Williams, a bright-eyed mother of a six-year old and who works as an outreach worker for Aboriginal women and at-risk youth in the Downtown Eastside, has become used to institutional stonewalling, having fought for change for so long.  She had hoped the United Nations recommendation that Canada develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against Aboriginal women would bring about change.

“I was hoping this was going to do something. Because Canada isn’t. So when the UN came in there was a little bit of hope. So I’m not surprised Canada is doing this. I hope they can enforce it more. We need a lot of support on this,” she said.

She met earlier this year with a UN rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when Harper approved only three delegates to probe Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal people last April.  According to a story in the Globe and Mail by Mark Hume, the first of three delegations from the IACHR came to Canada and heard harrowing tales about women who vanished along British Columbia’s infamous Highway of Tears, when meeting with First Nations people last August.  According to Hume:

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