By refusing to hold a national inquiry and enact the recommendations in a timely manner, Canada is currently violating international law.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published November 06, 2015
Our former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, worked tirelessly to convince Indigenous women in particular, and Canadians in general, that there was no foundation for a national inquiry into our missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
The man relentlessly repeated that these were criminal acts, even terrible crimes to be investigated by police and should not be viewed any other way. Harper also like to tout the fact that, "We (Conservatives) brought in laws across this country that I think are having more effect in terms of crimes of violence against not just aboriginal women, but women and persons more generally."
Harper failed to acknowledge that the 1,181 cases of murdered or missing Aboriginal women in Canada are in fact femicides [PDF], the intentional killing of women and girls because they are women and girls. Femicide is both a human rights violation and a crime against humanity.
Harper must have been suffering from cognitive dissonance when he ignored the root causes of Aboriginal femicide. At the root is sexism contained in the Indian Act, the usurping of power by the Indian Act, the loss of language, loss of childhood, loss of nuclear and extended family teachings, loss of land and way of life, loss of children to residential schools, loss of reproductive rights, and loss of role as keeper of the land.
These roots can be summed up as gender inequality, sexism, misogyny, power imbalances, and institutionalized discrimination.
Harper also choose to ignore the supports providing structure that makes this femicide socially acceptable. These include sexual violence, intimate partner abuse, gender-based harassment, sexual harassment, human trafficking, pornography, and racism.
These supports enable the femicide of Aboriginal women and girls by intimate partners as well as non-intimate partners both on and off reserve.
An RCMP report released in May 2015 stated that while Aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of Canada's population, they account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women. The executive summary concluded with the following statement:
Violence in our communities is a societal concern for Canada that goes beyond the law enforcement community. Canadians have a shared responsibility to address the health and welfare of all citizens, especially those who are the most vulnerable to violent victimization. A collective focus on healthy familial relationships and community well-being, including health care, social services, child protection, education and the administration of justice is needed.
Public awareness and understanding are key to making this a reality. The RCMP is proud to play a role in this regard, and pledges its commitment to continue this important work.
Despite all of this information Harper chose to answer demands for a public inquiry by saying, "Um it, it isn't really high on our radar, to be honest ... Our ministers will continue to dialogue with those who are concerned about this."
Well, Harper is long gone and no excuses should stand in the way of an inquiry into our murdered and missing Indigenous sisters. However, it's important to dispel the mistruths dispersed by Harper, and his government, that may have been internalized by some Canadians.
Dawn Harvard, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and Shelagh Day, Chair of the Human Rights Committee for the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (CFAIA) recently co-presented a webinar on Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women: Root Causes & Canada's Failures.
The presentation focused on the federal government's failure to fulfill its obligations to prevent, investigate, punish, and remedy the situation faced by Indigenous women in Canada. The webinar provided invaluable information that has been incorporated into this article.
Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nation's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reviewed the facts and recorded grave human rights violations before producing scathing reports with recommendations that included conducting a national inquiry.
The recommendations, to be implemented in their entirety rather than piece meal, were simply ignored by the Harper government.
Some Canadians fail to understand that these murders cannot be deconstructed to the point where they are simply viewed as a crime to be investigated and solved by police. These murders are rooted in our history as a nation and our collective mistreatment of Indigenous women dating back to first contact.
A number of interlocking issues all serve to undermine and usurp the human rights of our Indigenous sisters: colonization; sexual discrimination contained within the Indian Act; the cycle of violence on- and off-reserve; social and economic disadvantages; intergenerational issues arising from a loss of identity, cultural practices, and land; improprieties of individual officers, judges and senators; inadequate police investigations; inadequate prosecution of those found breaching police, judicial or senate etiquette; and inadequate prosecution of those guilty of femicide.
Harper's government failed to ensure that women are equal before the law. It failed to modify the social and cultural conduct of men and women to eliminate prejudices and practices based on ideas of superiority of one sex over the other. Harper failed Canadian women in general, but Indigenous women in particular.
Focusing on Indigenous women, Harper's government failed to act on the following violations identified by CEDAW:
The government had clearly defined obligations to protect the rights of Aboriginal women and to prevent victim blaming. Instead, the government chose to ignore the recommendations put forth by CEDAW.
CEDAW found the discrimination was systemic in nature. Therefore, Canadian human rights tribunals and courts must acknowledge the systemic pattern and create systemic remedies. Simply put, when issues affect an entire group of women then the remedies need to be as all-encompassing as possible.
It's far too simplistic to say that this is a criminal matter. It is also unacceptable to say that this is an individual matter that can be dealt with by prosecuting the perpetrator. The government failed to address the social determinants that have marginalized Aboriginal women since colonization.
By refusing to hold a national inquiry and enact the recommendations in a timely manner, Canada is currently violating international law. I would like to invite Prime Minister Trudeau, Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu, and Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to stand in solidarity with our Indigenous sisters, and women all across Canada, in order to remedy this situation.
December 6, 2015 will be the 26th anniversary of the femicide of 14 young women at Montreal's École Polytechnique. On this national day of mourning, stand in solidarity with women all across Canada to announce that the national inquiry into our murdered and missing Indigenous sisters will begin within the next 100 days.
Then, use the findings as an integral part of informing and supporting a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women.
In the meantime, here's a way that you can show support for our Indigenous sisters. Amnesty International commissioned the book, Kwe, Standing With Our Sisters (2014) as a call to action demanding justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada.
Funds raised through the sale of this 100-page anthology, edited by Joseph Boyden and featuring new writing and original artwork from more than fifty contributors, supports Amnesty's No More Stolen Sisters campaign. Pick up a few copies to have on hand to give as Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, host/hostess or birthday gifts.
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