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Latest federal “action plan” on violence against Indigenous women short on “action"

    September 16, 2014
    • Given the scale of the violence, the federal government’s response is piecemeal and inadequate.
    • Recognition of the importance of supporting the families of missing and murdered women is welcomed.
    • The federal plan fails to address the need for an independent National Public Inquiry.
    • More is needed to tackle economic marginalization of Indigenous women, support frontline services on and off reserve, and ensure effective and unbiased police response.

    The widespread violence faced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada requires a comprehensive and concerted effort by all levels of government to address the discrimination, marginalization and impoverishment that puts Indigenous women and girls in harm’s way or denies them the chance to escape this violence.

    The federal Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls, released September 15, includes a number of important and welcome initiatives, including more money to support the families of missing and murdered women and the first effort to coordinate across departments the various federal programs for Indigenous women.

    However, rather than being a comprehensive national action plan in keeping with the scale and severity of the violence, the initiatives announced by the federal government are largely a continuation of existing piecemeal and inadequately supported programs and approaches.

    In 2010, the federal government announced an annual $5 million allocation for victim services, community education and other initiatives directed at violence against Indigenous women. At the time, many organizations were critical of the government for committing such limited resources when Indigenous women and girls are going missing or being murdered in such large numbers. Yesterday’s announcement provides no new funding but simply shifts the balance in how these funds will be spent.

    The most significant of these shifts is in support for victims and families. Amnesty International welcomes the federal government’s recognition of the importance of supporting the families of missing and murdered women in dealing with police and the justice system. The announcement that $7.5 million will be allocated over five years for such work marks a small increase in funding. It’s unclear, however, exactly how the money will be spent or whether it is sufficient to meet the needs of families on a national basis.

    The plan’s allocation of an additional $7.5 million over five years to community-based programs to end violence is even more clearly inadequate. In the previous phase, the federal government compiled a database of best practices in violence prevention programs. The majority of programs surveyed cited inadequate or insecure funding as their primary barrier in delivering services to Indigenous women and their families.

    The plan contains no new funding for on reserve women’s shelters. Currently, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development provides funds for only 41 shelters out of 633 First Nations.

    The plan does not include the public inquiry called for by many Indigenous organizations, family members of women who have gone missing or been murdered, and human rights organizations. Instead, it relies on to the recent report by the Special Parliamentary Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women, which concluded its work in March, and the RCMP’s report on violence against Indigenous women released in May. Neither is a substitute for an independent national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in which the voices of families and frontline workers can be heard and recommendations brought forward without political constraint.

    The plan acknowledges that the economic marginalization of Indigenous women and families is a critical factor in putting Indigenous women and girls at risk but contains no specific measures to close the gap in income or access to basic government services, referring only to previously announced job training initiatives.

    The federal government’s plan focuses largely on domestic violence affecting First Nations communities. There can be no doubt that greater attention must be paid to domestic violence and to supporting community-based initiatives to ensure women’s safety and hold men accountable. This, however, it is not the entire picture. The plan contains no specific measures for Inuit and Métis women and largely ignores patterns of violence against Indigenous women in Canadian cities.

    The plan confirmed previously budgeted funding for the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains and the creation of a national missing persons index. It does not address the need for better police training or improved accountability mechanisms. It does not address the need for ongoing accurate and comprehensive police reporting on violent crimes against Indigenous women. Nor does it address the need identified in the recent RCMP report for review of unresolved cases involving suspicious deaths, ongoing missing persons or unsolved homicides.

    The federal plan includes an important commitment to improved coordination and greater accountability to affected families and communities. The federal government has promised to establish a secretariat that can be a contact point for government agencies and the public and to make regular reports on the implementation of their commitments. The details, however, are unclear.

    At the United Nations, Canada has supported resolutions calling on all governments to establish “systemic, comprehensive, multisectoral and sustained” national action plans to end violence against women. The plan announced yesterday falls far short of such an approach. Under international human rights law, governments are obliged to act to the utmost of their abilities to stop violence against women. Governments that fail to do so must bear some of the responsibility for the harm and suffering that could otherwise have been prevented.

    Background on the scale of violence

    Official RCMP statistics released this year, confirmed that First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls face a much higher homicide rate than all other women in Canada, with 1,017 women and girls murdered between 1980 and 2012 and 105 still missing under suspicious or unexplained circumstances.

    In the last decade—when the overall homicide rate in Canada was declining—the reported homicide rate for Indigenous women and girls was almost 6 times higher than for non-Indigenous women and girls.

    The RCMP report released in May was the first effort by police in Canada to compile national statistics on the level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls. These statistics may still significantly underestimate the threat because of gaps in police information.

    The RCMP report also excludes deaths of Indigenous women where foul play was suspected but never established. Because little guidance or training is provided to help police correctly identify the Indigenous identity of victims of crime, it’s also likely that some Indigenous homicide victims have been incorrectly identified as non-Aboriginal by police. The RCMP does not distinguish between First Nations, Inuit and Métis women or between crimes committed on reserve or off reserve.

    While almost all murders of women are committed by someone known to the victim, the RCMP report reveals a unique pattern of violence against Indigenous women outside the home.

    According to the RCMP report, Indigenous women and girls are much more likely to be murdered by someone the police categorize as an “acquaintance”—including neighbours, co-workers, and authority figures. In fact, the RCMP statistics suggest that the threat of murder at the hands of an acquaintance is almost 7 times greater for Indigenous women and girls than it is for all other women and girls.

    For further information, please contact Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations, 416 363-9933 ext 332 bberton-hunter@amnesty.ca. For more information the Stolen Sisters campaign visit www.amnesty.ca/stolensisters.