Murdered and missing aboriginal women deserve inquiry, rights group says

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been studying issue in B.C. for 2 years

 

The Inter-American Commission, which is affiliated with the Organization of American States, has issued a report on murdered and missing indigenous women. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The Inter-American Commission, which is affiliated with the Organization of American States, has issued a report on murdered and missing indigenous women. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

By: CBC News

 

A report into missing and murdered indigenous women in B.C. is breathing new life into an acrimonious debate between advocates of a public inquiry and the Canadian government, which says it is taking action to address the problem but refuses to call an inquiry.

The report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which is affiliated with the Organization of American States, said it “strongly supports the creation of a national-level action plan or a nationwide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.”

The report came to several conclusions, including:

  • The high numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women in B.C. are concentrated in Prince George and the Downtown Eastside.
  • The police have “failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings and disappearances.”
  • Multiple policing jurisdictions in B.C. have resulted in “confusion” between the RCMP and Vancouver police.

The report acknowledged the steps already taken by Canadian governments at both the federal and provincial levels to address some of the problems and challenges that indigenous women face.

Last fall, the federal government committed to a five-year plan to address violence against aboriginal women and girls.

Today, the office for Kellie Leitch, the minister for the status of women, said the government was reviewing the report.

“Our government has received the IACHR’s report and is reviewing the report’s findings, comments and recommendations.”

The report’s recommendations include calls for:

  • Providing a safe public transport option along Highway 16 in Prince George.
  • Mandatory training for police officers, prosecutors, judges and court personnel “in the causes and consequences of gender-based violence.”
  • A national plan or public inquiry in consultation with indigenous peoples.

NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said it was “unconscionable” for the government to ignore growing calls for a public inquiry.

“It is time for the prime minister and [Aboriginal Affairs Minister] Bernard Valcourt to stop ignoring the sociological phenomenon of missing and murdered indigenous women and take federal action to address the crisis,” Crowder said in a written statement.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett also urged the government to heed the report’s recommendations.

“The prime minister’s shocking indifference to this ongoing tragedy is not only a national disgrace, but an international embarrassment,” Bennett said in a written statement.


CANADA'S MURDERED ABORIGINAL WOMEN

Mobile users, view a chart of homicide rates among Canadians vs. aboriginal women

 


The IACHR has been studying the issue for more than two years.

 

Its investigation was requested by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) in March 2012.

At a press conference in Ottawa to respond to the report, Dawn Harvard of the NWAC called it “truly groundbreaking.”

“This report is the first in-depth examination of the murders and disappearances by an expert human rights body. These women and girls are being stolen from our families, from our communities, and it is time that somebody is taking it seriously,” Harvard said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in reaction to the recent slaying of Tina Fontaine that the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women was not part of a “sociological phenomenon,” but rather a crime and should be treated as such.

Holly Johnson, of the Feminist Alliance for International Action, said the commission has spoken “loudly and clearly.”

“Canadian governments have a lot of work to do,” she said. “Contrary to our prime minister’s assertion, that this is not a sociological phenomenon … [It] goes way beyond policing. Social and economic factors must also be addressed.”

The report includes recommendations on how governments at both the federal and provincial/territorial level can address the situation.

The Conservative government has so far refused calls for a national public inquiry on the issue, saying it is more interested in taking action. Last month, when CBC’s Peter Mansbridge asked the prime minister about launching a public inquiry, Harper said: “It isn’t high on our radar, to be honest.”

“The actions Harper is prepared to engage in are very slim, uncoordinated,” said Sheila Day, chair of the FAFIA human rights committee, at a press conference held by FAFIA and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Day said the report makes it clear that the consultation and participation of indigenous women and associations is essential.

At the press conference, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said the fundamental issue is racist attitudes toward indigenous women and girls. “We are going to continue to pursue this issue until there is justice,” said Philip.

Canada’s premiers are expected to hold a national roundtable on murdered and missing aboriginal women on Feb. 27 in Ottawa.

 

DOCUMENT

Reports contradict Stephen Harper’s view on aboriginal women victims

Prime minister said issue of missing, murdered aboriginal women is not “sociological phenomenon”

 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently dismissed renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women such as Maisy Odjick (left) and Shannon Alexander (right). "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon." said Harper. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently dismissed renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women such as Maisy Odjick (left) and Shannon Alexander (right). “We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon.” said Harper. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

 

By Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press

 

Dozens of federal, provincial and community studies compiled by the Conservative government appear to contradict the prime minister’s contention that the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women isn’t a “sociological phenomenon.”

But some in the aboriginal community don’t quibble with the government’s other main response to calls for a public inquiry — that there has been more than enough research.

Officials point to a non-exhaustive list of 40 studies conducted on the issue between 1996 and 2013.

A closer look at the research shows that in nearly every case, the authors or participants highlight the “root” or systemic causes of violence against aboriginal women and their marginalization in society.

The legacy of colonization, including the displacement and dispossession linked with residential schools and other policies, are cited frequently in the reports. The impact of poverty and lack of housing are also cited as root causes of violence against aboriginal women.

“There are root causes of violence in the aboriginal communities that include things like poverty and racism and this is why it’s incredibly important for us to work with organizations, aboriginal organizations, across the country…,” Rona Ambrose, then status of women minister, told a parliamentary hearing in 2011.

Harper has offered a different perspective.

“I think we should not view this as sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime,” he said last month.

 

Harper North 20140821Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected renewed calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

 

“It is crime, against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such.”

The government’s related position has been that there have been enough studies — the focus needs to be on action.

“What we don’t need, is yet another study on top of the some 40 studies and reports that have already been done, that made specific recommendations which are being pursued, to delay ongoing action,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay said last week.

Some aboriginal advocates agree there is enough research

Some inside the aboriginal community agree there have been enough studies, but there are varying opinions on whether an inquiry would just go over the same ground.

One 2005 report prepared by three B.C. community groups, entitled “Researched to Death,” pointed to the “striking similarities” in research and recommendations done up to that point.

“The only outstanding element is action,” the authors wrote.

Dawn Harvard, president of the Ontario Native Women’s Association, agrees there has already been substantial research on the sociological causes of violence against aboriginal women.

‘I don’t necessarily agree with just having more research for the sake of research.’– Kate Rexe, Sisters in Spirit

But she says a national inquiry wouldn’t be about the sociology, but rather about determining what specific policies and initiatives are needed to address specific community problems — in-depth research that smaller groups don’t have the resources to do.

“The sociological studies have identified that there is a problem, so your inquiry is going to get into the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of what is this problem all about,” said Harvard.

“And one would hope that therefore we would have a much more effective response when we come out of it.”

For Michelle Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, an inquiry would be an accountability exercise in a non-partisan forum — akin to the Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal or the current Charbonneau commission into corruption in Quebec’s construction industry.

 

Premiers and aboriginal leaders 20140827Aboriginal leaders agreed to a roundtable discussion to address the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls last month in Charlottetown, PEI. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

“Do we do another research (report)? No,” said Audette. “But this inquiry will bring us together and say, why didn’t we implement those (prior) recommendations? Why are we not putting in place legislation that will force our police forces to automatically exchange data?”

Kate Rexe, who worked on the Sisters in Spirit research and policy initiative on missing and murdered aboriginal women, takes a different perspective.

She says that while an inquiry would provide public recognition for the victims’ families, it won’t necessarily reach the required level of detail.

“If we’re looking at a 30-year time span over a number of different police services, in various communities that have had varying levels of response of police to the families and the communities, you’re not going to get the answers that you would hopefully need,” said Rexe.

“I don’t necessarily agree with just having more research for the sake of research.”

Canada nixes UN review of violence on aboriginal women

Canada rejects UN rights panel call for review of violence on aboriginal women

The Canadian government has rejected UN calls for a panel review of violence against aboriginal women. The Harper government has previously butted heads in with UN special rapporteurs on other issues. (Canadian Press)

The Canadian government has rejected UN calls for a panel review of violence against aboriginal women. The Harper government has previously butted heads in with UN special rapporteurs on other issues. (Canadian Press)

Source: CBC News

Cuba, Iran, Belarus and Russia used a United Nations body Thursday to criticize Canada’s human-rights record, as the Canadian envoy rejected calls to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against aboriginal women.

Canada was responding Thursday to the UN Human Rights Council, which is conducting its Universal Period Review of Canada’s rights record, on a wide range of issues from poverty, immigration, prostitution and the criminal justice system.

Countries have their rights records reviewed every four years by the Geneva-based UN forum, but the Harper government has been skeptical in part because it allows countries with dubious rights records to criticize Canada

Canada’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Elissa Golberg, offered a brief rebuttal to Belarus, but did not engage directly with the other countries that criticized Canada.

“Canada is proud of its human-rights record, and our peaceful and diverse society,” Golberg told the one-hour session.

While no society is entirely free of discrimination, she noted, Canada has “a strong legal and policy framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, and an independent court system.”

Recommendations from those countries were among the 40 of 162 that Canada chose to reject.

That also included a rejection of a series of resolutions calling on Canada to undertake sweeping national reviews of violence against aboriginal women.

Golberg said Canada takes the issue seriously and that provincial and local governments are better suited to getting results on those issues.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations, said there is deep concern among aboriginals over the government’s refusal to conduct a national review of the problem.

“There is strong support for this action domestically among provincial and territorial leaders and the Canadian public and strong international support, not to mention a multitude of reports and investigations that urge Canada to act,”Atleo said in a statement.

He said talk is not enough.

“It is especially clear that words need to be supported by actions, that commitments and declarations need to be accompanied by concrete and concerted efforts in collaboration with First Nations to ensure all of our citizens, including women and girls, are safe.”

The countries that called for a national review included Switzerland, Norway, Slovenia, Slovakia and New Zealand.

Other countries with poor rights records, including Iran, Cuba and Belarus, also supported the call for an investigation into the disappearances, murder and sexual abuse of aboriginal women in Canada.

In a response to be formally tabled Thursday in Geneva, Canada says it is “strongly committed to taking action with aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups to prevent and stop violence against aboriginal women” through a series of federal and provincial initiatives.

“There have been a number of inquiries and resulting proposals for improvements over the years,” says the reply.

“In addition, race-based statistics are not recorded in a systematic manner across Canada’s criminal justice system due to operational, methodological, legal and privacy concerns.”

Canada faced similar calls to better address the concerns of its aboriginal population in 2009, when it faced its last review by the UN body.

“Such comments were made by a range of states, some of them close allies, some not. For example, the United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands, as well as Cuba and Iran, recommended that Canada better address Aboriginal Peoples’ concerns,” said an April 2013 Library of Parliament review of the UN review process.

The issue reared its head again in February when the New York-based group Human Rights Watch issued a highly critical report alleging police abuse of aboriginal women in British Columbia.

It too urged the Harper government to strike a national commission of inquiry along with the B.C. provincial government, a measure that was endorsed by the NDP, Liberals, the Green party and the Assembly of First Nations.

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is scheduled to visit Canada in October to conduct his own inquiry.

The federal government will get a chance to respond to Anaya’s findings before a final report is circulated and presented to the UN rights council.

The Harper government has butted heads in the past with previous UN special rapporteurs.

Conservative cabinet ministers have blasted the UN’s right-to-food envoy Olivier De Schutter for saying too many Canadian citizens are going hungry.

It is all part of a periodic war of words between the Harper government and various UN bodies. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized a Quebec law on demonstrations, prompting a quick response from Ottawa.

The UN Committee Against Torture has also accused Ottawa of being “complicit” in human rights violations committed against three Arab-Canadian men held in Syria after 9-11.