Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Women a Failure: Indigenous Group

People march during the 26th Annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver in February, 2016.
(Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

The Globe and Mail | May 16, 2017

The organization that was the loudest voice in calling for a public investigation of why so many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada says the inquiry launched to determine the societal causes of the tragedy has, so far, been a dismal failure.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) will issue its second report card on the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women on Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained in advance by The Globe and Mail. The discouraging appraisal follows repeated complaints by advocates, family members and others that the process announced in late 2015 is falling far behind its intended pace and that communications to those who are most anxious for its findings have been insufficient or non-existent.

“This many months into the inquiry, we cannot afford to be nice any more,” said Francyne Joe, NWAC’s interim president. “Families are upset, they’re getting discouraged and we need to see action on the part of the commissioners to ensure that this inquiry is going to be family-first and is going to be respectful to the missing and murdered women.”

On Monday, families of victims, Indigenous leaders and advocates for those who have lost loved ones wrote an open letter to chief commissioner Marion Buller saying they fear the $53.8-million inquiry is in “serious trouble” for many reasons but, primarily “a lack of communication that is causing frustration, confusion and disappointment in this long-awaited process.”

The commission did not respond to that letter by deadline on Monday. But the report from NWAC echoes its complaints.

On 10 out of 15 measures – from structure to communications to transparency to respect for the families of victims – the inquiry was given failing marks. In three areas it received cautions. In two others, NWAC said there was not enough information to make an assessment. It was given no passing grades.

The report says, among other things, that the inquiry has failed to announce its timelines or issue regular progress reports and has left families and the media in the dark. The commissioners, it says, have created a sense of “desperation and urgency” by not making themselves available and not communicating regularly, and the money spent to date has not been best used to allow families to engage in the process.

NWAC charges that the inquiry is not being set up to take into account the trauma suffered by victims’ loved ones, and that it has failed in its mandates to promote reconciliation, contribute to public awareness and to allow families and community members to share their experiences and views.

Communication has been the biggest failure, Ms. Joe said. The media, not the commission, she said, informed NWAC last week that the lone opportunity for families to testify this spring will be at the end of May, and the remainder of family testimony, which had been expected to continue throughout the summer, would not be scheduled until fall.

“My biggest fear at this point is that this is not going to be a family-first inquiry, that families are going to come third,” Ms. Joe said. “There’s a lot of discussions around the technical side of things, there’s a lot of discussions around the legal side of things. But there’s not enough discussions as to how families are going to be part of this. And they have been the ones fighting for this inquiry for decades.”

A spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said on Monday that, despite the concerns being raised, the minister believes enough time and resources have been made available for the inquiry to do its work.

A 2014 report by the RCMP said the force had identified nearly 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who disappeared or were slain in recent decades, and some critics suggest the Mounties’ list is far from complete. Families and advocates want to know why Indigenous women and girls are victims of violence far more often than other women in Canada.

The letter from families and others, which was posted on Monday to the website of Indigenous artist Christi Belcourt – a long-time advocate for the environment and Indigenous people – says people across the country are loudly raising alarms.

The letter’s signatories, which include more than 50 people and organizations, say it is clear that the approach of the inquiry must be “fundamentally shifted” and asks the chief commissioner to respond by May 22.

Ms. Belcourt said in a telephone interview that the letter came together in about a week and it was easy to obtain signatures. In fact, she said, more families and Indigenous leaders stepped forward in support of it on Monday after it was made public.

People wanted to give the inquiry time to work, Ms. Belcourt said, “but it’s simply got to the point where it’s become very obvious that it’s unravelling, and that it’s not functioning all.”

[SOURCE]

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Native Leaders Call For Action, Not More Talk

Protesters handed out 1200 informational flyers on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls at the Ontario/Manitoba border. The flyers informed the public of the violence taking place in Aboriginal communities and the need for a national inquiry. June 19th 2015. File photo: Red Power Media.

Protesters handed out 1200 informational flyers on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls at the Ontario/Manitoba border. The flyers informed the public of the violence taking place in Aboriginal communities and the need for a national inquiry. June 19th 2015. File photo: Red Power Media.

By Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Dawn Lavell Harvard says the time for well-intentioned but often empty talk is over.

The president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, along with other national aboriginal leaders, will step up pressure for action when they meet Wednesday with provincial and territorial premiers in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.

They’re calling for detailed work plans to go with the photo ops and communiques from their yearly sit-down with the Council of the Federation.

“The most pressing concern we have right now in our communities is the ongoing level of violence,” Lavell Harvard said from Ottawa.

She believes provinces should step in as the federal Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuse to call a public inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt was among federal officials who attended a national roundtable on the issue last winter. They highlighted justice investments and a five-year, $25-million plan to reduce related violence as proof of action, saying an inquiry isn’t necessary.

“We want to see concrete action,” Lavell Harvard said. “Policing, access to justice, equity and discrimination issues.

“We need to push the provinces to do more.”

The 2011 National Household Survey suggests indigenous women make up 4.3 per cent of the national female population. But the RCMP has said they’re victims in 16 per cent of female homicides and account for 11 per cent of missing women.

The Mounties have reported that almost 1,200 aboriginal women have been murdered or have vanished since 1980, and that attackers are often known to the victims.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the issue will be front and centre Wednesday.

He also said the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission report released last month must not gather dust.

“The TRC recommendations and calls to action captured the whole country and the world,” he said in an interview. “We just need to give them life.”

The commission described as “cultural genocide” the suffering borne by generations of aboriginal children in once-mandatory residential schools.

It estimated more than 6,000 boys and girls, about one in 25, died in the institutions. Scores of others endured horrific physical and sexual abuse.

The commission made 94 recommendations toward reconciliation, urging Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework.

Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, representing about 55,000 Canadian Inuit, said disproportionate numbers of aboriginal children in provincial care will also be discussed.

“If we could only get the federal government to the table, that would definitely go a long way.”

Harper’s long-standing absence from first ministers’ meetings sends a strong message, Bellegarde said.

“If we’re going to rebuild this country, we need all levels of leadership to be there.”

Provinces need to start hinging resource development on company commitments to consult, employ and share benefits with aboriginal people, Bellegarde said.

Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, notes the meeting will take place near the $8.6-billion Muskrat Falls hydro development.

His group, representing about 6,000 Inuit-Metis in southern Labrador, says it wasn’t properly consulted and is challenging the project in court.

The Nunatsiavut government has also raised alarms about how potential mercury contamination from flooding could affect Lake Melville, a food source for 2,000 Inuit.

Host Premier Paul Davis said the province reached a major benefits agreement on Muskrat Falls with the Innu Nation.

“I think there is great value in ensuring it happens on a more consistent basis not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but across the country,” he said in an interview.

Davis said the premiers’ working group on aboriginal affairs has been crafting action plans for several matters, including violence against women. Truth and Reconciliation Commission members Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild will speak to the meeting in Labrador about how provinces can respond, he added.

The premiers move to St. John’s for sessions Thursday and Friday, including energy and economic issues, health care, trade and climate change.

The Canadian Press

Follow @suebailey on Twitter.

http://www.insideottawavalley.com/news-story/5732336-native-leaders-call-for-action-not-more-talk/

Take Action On Missing Aboriginal Women

A photograph of Dauphinais is seen as participants hug during the '24 Hour Sacred Gathering of Drums' protest calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

A photograph of Dauphinais is seen as participants hug during the ’24 Hour Sacred Gathering of Drums’ protest calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Victoria Times Colonist

An arm of the Organization of American States is calling for a Canadian action plan or nationwide inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

An inquiry is needed, but it should do more than gather the tragic statistics with which we are already familiar. It should be specifically focused on finding solutions. We don’t need another report collecting dust while more lives are lost.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released its report Monday from an investigation the commission conducted in Canada in 2013. The commission’s main focus was on B.C., since this province accounts for 28 per cent of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada, but its report said what happens in B.C. reflects a pattern across the country.

Claudette Dumont-Smith, executive director of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said: “This requires leadership from the government of Canada, since its leadership and participation is necessary in order to ensure nationwide co-ordinated, effective efforts.”

In total numbers, far more nonaboriginal women are murder victims than aboriginal women, but it’s the ratio that is shocking. Indigenous peoples account for 4.3 per cent of Canada’s population, yet 17 per cent of women murdered over the past 30 years were aboriginal.

It’s a heartbreaking situation, but not particularly mysterious. While the commission says a “fuller understanding” is needed, the underlying causes are fairly obvious and have been for generations.

“Indigenous women and girls constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada,” says the report. “Poverty, inadequate housing and economic and social relegation, among other factors, contribute to their increased vulnerability to violence.

This persistence of longstanding social and economic marginalization has given rise to large numbers of indigenous women living in vulnerable situations, including homelessness, and abusive relationships. It has also led to the disproportionate engagement of indigenous women in highrisk activities such as hitchhiking, drug use, gang activity and prostitution.

“They face discrimination on multiple fronts: as women within their home communities due to the patriarchal legacy of colonization, as women in mainstream society and as aboriginal persons in mainstream society.”

The commission’s report dwells at length on the frustrations families of murdered and missing women have experienced. Its recommendations are aimed at ensuring police take more seriously reports of missing aboriginal women, and that victims’ families get access to information.

But the action plan should go far beyond that. The problems are deeply rooted in the past, and solutions will be difficult, but not impossible. They include better housing, social programs, better educational and economic opportunities, and stronger supports to help families stay intact.

Yes, those measures cost money, but they will pay off. Poverty, isolation and lack of opportunity spawn substance abuse, crime and violence, which cost all of us dearly.

This holds true for any sector of our society where poverty rules, but Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples and the paternalistic Indian Act have exacerbated the problems.

The rights commission’s report acknowledges that governments in Canada are aware of the problems and have been taking steps. It cites the federal government’s statement: “Canada has been clear that abhorrent acts of violence will not be tolerated in our society, and remains committed to take action to address the situation of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada.”

Those words need to be backed up by concrete measures, and those measures cannot be imposed from above – they must be worked out by all groups affected. The involvement of aboriginal women and First Nations leadership is crucial.

While a deeper understanding of the issue will be helpful, let’s remember that the statistics are not merely numbers. They represent real people and suffering families.

Originally posted in Victoria Times Colonist January 14, 2015