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New Parliamentary report on violence against Indigenous women a regrettable step backwards, says Amnesty International

    December 12, 2011

    Amnesty International says a new report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women offers no real solutions to the widespread threats to the lives of Indigenous women in Canada.  Instead, the report represents one more lost opportunity to make progress in meaningfully addressing one of the country’s most serious, longstanding human rights crises.

    Last March, the Committee issued an interim report that called for a comprehensive, strategic and coordinated approach to end the vastly disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women. The final report tabled in Parliament today drops the call for a comprehensive response and instead focuses primarily on government initiatives that are already underway.

    “The Committee is representing the report as forward looking, but it actually represents a troubling and regrettable step backward,” Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International (English Speaking) said today. “Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the Committee has backtracked on its earlier commitment to a comprehensive response in order to avoid embarrassing the government over its inadequate response to this human rights crisis.”

    The March 2011 interim report was supported by all parties in the Committee. Today, New Democratic Party members of the Committee issued their own dissenting report, stating that the “final report neither thoroughly nor accurately reflects the voices of the women who were heard throughout the study, nor does it adequately incorporate the solutions they offered during their testimonies.”

    The majority report tabled today acknowledges many of the specific concerns presented during Committee hearings, such as inadequate police response to reports of missing women, the under-funding of services for Indigenous women, and the need for support for the families of missing and murdered women. However the report contains few concrete recommendations and does not set forward any new vision for responding to this crisis.

    The Committee report fails to call for any guidelines or accountability measures for police handling of cases of missing and murdered women. It does not even call for police to consistently record and report whether or not the victims of violent crime are Indigenous. Instead, the report calls only for the development and sharing of training materials on “the cultural and historical context in which violence against Aboriginal women occurs.”

    Although the report discusses the housing crisis plaguing many Indigenous communities, the severe shortage of emergency shelters for Indigenous women, and the large numbers of Indigenous children being placed in foster care, the report offers no recommendations for countering these critical obstacles to Indigenous women escaping violence. The only recommendation on the widespread impoverishment of Indigenous communities is a call to “work towards removing barriers to economic growth for on-reserve Aboriginal peoples.” The report calls only for further discussion to determine what more can be done for victims and their families “within existing service models” and existing budgets.

    "If these kinds of half-hearted and piecemeal approaches were all that was needed, Canada would not be faced with a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women,” said Beatrice Vaugrante, Director General, Amnesty International Canada francophone.  “The failure to give serious consideration to the concerns raised before the Committee is deeply disappointing.”

    The interim report recommended that Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be considered as part of the framework of responding to violations of Indigenous women’s rights, and cited a number of the Declaration’s specific provisions. The new report makes no reference to the Declaration or any other human rights standard.  That is troubling as it underscores a failure to understand that this crisis is at its very core a human rights issue, which involves human rights obligations and requires human rights solutions.

    Beth Berton-Hunter,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    416-363-9933, ext. 332