OTTAWA – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the research study released today by the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women is a valuable contribution to the discussion on the need for a national inquiry into the national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and thanked the Coalition members for their work and commitment.
National Chief Bellegarde said, “We have many allies, activists and expert opinion all committed to seeing immediate action guided by advice and direction from Indigenous women, communities, leadership, human rights experts and activists. Citizens in all jurisdictions want to see action to ensure safety and security for Indigenous women and girls. A national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will draw together all of the voices – families, Indigenous women’s organizations, the Assembly of First Nations and all of our partners in governments and civil society to work to this common goal of eliminating this scourge through ongoing commitment and action.”
The report released today was prepared by researchers from the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women. Researchers reviewed 58 reports spanning a period of two decades dealing with discrimination and violence against Indigenous women and girls, including government studies, research by Indigenous women’s organizations and reports by international human rights bodies. The study finds broad consensus across many reports that the high levels of violence against Indigenous women are rooted in a history of discrimination that begins with colonization and continues through laws and policies like the Indian Act and residential schools. The report concludes that out of more than 700 recommendations put forward over the years only a small few have been fully implemented.
“Today’s report shows that despite the large number of studies and examinations on the issue of violence and discrimination against Indigenous women and girls there has been an appalling lack of action on the recommendations,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “This is why we continue to press for action to address this urgent issue as well as a national inquiry to ensure accountability and to draw together all of the experience and expertise needed including the voices of families who have been directly impacted.”
Why a National Inquiry Into the National Crisis of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls?
The AFN maintains that a national inquiry, properly mandated (through the involvement of the national organizations participating in the National Roundtable) is needed as a key element of a national action plan to address this fundamental human rights issue.
A properly mandated and resourced national inquiry would meet several important objectives:
- Ensure that all governments (federal, provincial, territorial, First Nations) as well as civil society organizations (human rights bodies, organizations and activists) have a full picture of the scope of this crisis – from the number of Indigenous women, girls and families who have been directly affected as well as statistics on who offenders are. The figures released by the RCMP in 2014 are alarming and do confirm that Indigenous women are disproportionately at risk. However, Canada in a response to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights investigation (IACHR) admitted that there are still no reliable national figures to ensure we have a full picture of the scope of this crisis. Canada also reportedly advised that there is no reliable source of disaggregated data on violence against indigenous women and girls;
- Provide much needed public education that Indigenous women are at risk because of gender and racial discrimination that reflects longstanding structural inequalities and systemic discrimination, while also speaking to where the remedies lie.
- Ensure that families across Canada who have lost loved ones are fully heard and supported in a respectful forum on their experience dealing with the justice system and on the issues of root causes and necessary remedies.
- Provide an expert review of what is needed to ensure that Canada’s due diligence obligations held by all governments in Canada (federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous) are fully met with respect to the prevention, investigation and prosecution of violence against Indigenous women and girls – whether that violence is perpetrated by private actors or State actors.
- Provide a forum with the power to compel testimony and production of documents, as necessary, to seek truth and ensure accountability.
The AFN recognizes that there are concerns about the utility of a national inquiry given challenges experienced in some past efforts.
There is now an opportunity to learn from past mistakes. There is a broad range of perspectives and experience across the country that can be pulled together through a national inquiry to examine this issue in all its complexities as it affects families and communities in all jurisdictions and to examine the role and responsibilities of federal/provincial/territorial and Indigenous jurisdictions across Canada.
This would inform the joint work that begins at the National Roundtable this week and also provide a mechanism of accountability for all decision-makers.
1 Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview.
2 See IACHR Report Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia, Canada December 2014 at p. 11.