Another International Call for Inquiry Into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women in Canada
Indigenous leaders in Canada have welcomed yet another report urging the federal government to examine the disproportionate rate of violence against aboriginal women, but the government does not seem any closer to convening one.
This time the call came from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which released a report earlier this month and said the lack of a national inquiry to date constitutes a “grave violation of human rights,” according to report authors Niklas Bruun and Barbara Bailey.
“Aboriginal women and girls are more likely to be victims of violence than men or non-Aboriginal women, and they are more likely to die as a result,” said CEDAW members Bruun and Bailey in a statement after issuing the report on March 6. “Yet, despite the seriousness of the situation, the Canadian State has not sufficiently implemented measures to ensure that cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women are effectively investigated and prosecuted.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has found that 16 percent of murdered women and girls are indigenous, as are 11 percent of those who went missing between 1980 and 2012, the National Post reported. In comparison, they make up just four percent of the population.
“The violence inflicted on aboriginal women is often rooted in the deep socioeconomic inequalities and discrimination their communities face and which can be traced back to the period of colonisation,” said Bruun and Bailey. “During the inquiry, NGOs indicated to us that young aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence. Aboriginal women and girls also experience high levels of sexual abuse and violence in their own families and communities, as well as within wider society.”
In all, CEDAW recommended 38 measures that Canada should take, one of them being a national inquiry. Another involves developing a national plan to address violence against indigenous women in all its forms, CEDAW said in its statement. Bruun and Bailey visited Canada in 2013 and spoke to numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as the Canadian government. What they found reflected what many others have said before.
CEDAW is just the latest group advocating for a national inquiry into exactly why indigenous women are more prone to experiencing violence than others in the population. In January the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a branch of the Organization of American States, came to the same conclusion.
However, the government has consistently refused, saying that enough studies had been done. As recently as March 30, the federal Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch reiterated the government line, that there have already been numerous studies of the matter, and that action is what’s needed.
“We don't need more lawyers looking at what the problem is,” she told Vice in a March 30 story. “We need people acting on the problem so that these families are supported so that these families have answers to their questions. We're not going to achieve more by looking at the same issue and having more lawyers write more documents.”
But indigenous leaders said an in-depth look at the colonial underpinnings of the problem is necessary, and such a study has not been done.
“Canada’s inaction in regard to missing and murdered Indigenous women is getting increasing international attention, and this latest from CEDAW calling it a ‘grave violation of human rights’ cannot be ignored,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement. “The loss of almost 1,200 indigenous women and girls is not an indigenous issue, it’s a Canadian issue. We continue to push for a national inquiry that would identify the root causes of violence, and for coordinated action across all jurisdictions to prevent and address violence against our sisters, mothers and daughters.”
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) also supported CEDAW’s findings and emphasized the necessity of implementing the group's recommendations.
“We absolutely reject the baseless stance taken by the Harper government that a national inquiry is not needed,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the UBCIC, in a statement. “As we continue to stress, to truly address and eliminate the tragic and devastating issues of violence against indigenous women and girls, the Harper government must be compelled and forced to examine the intersecting and deeply-rooted factors of poverty, colonialism and systemic racism. In finding that Canada is violating the rights of Indigenous women and girls, this critical and urgent report by CEDAW strengthens and builds on the comprehensive reports released by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples James Anaya and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.”
“This is an extremely important report for Canada,” said Dawn Harvard, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), in a statement. “Canada has been told, first by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, and now by the United Nations CEDAW Committee, that Canada’s failures to act violate the human rights of Aboriginal women.”
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