UN to conduct inquiry into Canadian government’s response to missing and murdered aboriginal women

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by Sarah Bingham 

Canada will be the subject of a United Nations inquiry by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the UN’s main authority on women’s human rights), only the second ever of it’s kind.

The Committee, an independent body comprised of 23 experts from around the world, investigates what it deems “very serious violations of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women”, a convention signed by Canada in 1979.

The inquiry is the result of lobbying from both the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA). As NWAC President, Jeannette Corbiere Lavall states in a December 13th press release, “Aboriginal women in Canada experience rates of violence 3.5 times higher than non-aboriginal women and young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die of violence. NWAC has documented the disappearances and murders of over 600 aboriginal women and girls in Canada over the past 20 years, and we believe there may be many more.”

“The response of law enforcement and other government officials has been slow, often dismissive of reports made by family members of missing women, uncoordinated and generally inadequate.”

The news of the Canadian government’s inadequate action to address the disturbingly high rates of missing and murdered aboriginal women dates back many years. Canada’s response to the crisis was the subject of a 2004 report by globally recognized experts at Amnesty International.

Findings from the report, Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada demonstrate a “lack of consistent reporting and comprehensive analysis by Canadian police and government agencies of violence crimes against Indigenous women.” The report makes several observations:

  • despite assurances to the contrary, police in Canada have often failed to provide Indigenous women with an adequate standard of protection;
  • the social and economic marginalization of Indigenous women, along with a history of government policies that have torn apart Indigenous families and communities, has pushed a disproportionate number of Indigenous women into dangerous situations that include extreme poverty, homelessness and prostitition;

  • the resulting vulnerability of Indigenous women has been exploited by Indigenous and non-Indigenous men to carry out acts of extreme brutality against them;

  • these acts of violence may be motivated by racism, or may be carried out in the expectation that indifference to the welfare and safety of Indigenous women will allow the perpetrators to escape justice.

NDP interim leader, Nycole Turmel, released a statement Tuesday, December 13th saying, “These murders and disappearances are a real tragedy. These women have waited far too long to get real action from their government. This government doesn’t do anything for aboriginals and, once again, they have to rely on the international community to get help.”

Federal cabinet minister for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose stated “at this stage we have received a letter from the committee of the United Nations and we are responding to that. We will be discussing this issue in February, but at this point there is no inquiry.” The government has to give it’s assent before the inquiry can proceed.

Just in the past few months residents of Lanark County participated in 2 grass-roots movements to demand justice and action from the Canadian government. The “Walk 4 Justice” made it’s stop in Carleton Place on September 16th as family members of missing and murdered aboriginal women walked from Vancouver to Parliament Hill to bring attention to their plight.

Residents of Lanark County also travelled in to Parliament Hill on July 5th to join hundreds of protesters in the “Sisters in Solidarity March” to demand government action.

It is hoped that this UN inquiry and the international spotlight on Canada will finally bring justice for the over 600 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.