Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: Federal government response to UN expert committee finding of “grave human rights violations” shockingly inadequate
Ottawa - Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the federal government, while claiming to accept the majority of recommendations made in a new report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW), is in fact refusing to make any new commitments to stop the horrific levels of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
In a strongly worded report released on Friday, the UN expert committee concluded that Canada was responsible for “grave violations” of human rights due its “protracted failure” to take sufficient action to stop violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The CEDAW report sets out 38 recommendations to address the marginalization and impoverishment putting Indigenous women at risk, ensuring effective and unbiased police responses, and proper support for affected families and communities. The Committee also called for an independent national inquiry and a comprehensive, coordinated national action plan.
In an official response released with the CEDAW report, the federal government rejected both a national inquiry and a comprehensive national action plan. While claiming to accept the remaining recommendations, either in whole or in part, Canada, in fact, made no commitments to make any changes to its current programs and policies, even where these programs and policies are specifically critiqued in the report.
“The UN expert committee could not have been clearer or stronger in its condemnation of the adequacy of Canada’s actions to date,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of the English-speaking Branch of Amnesty International Canada. “Having found that governments in Canada could and should have been doing more to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls, the Committee took the next logical step and concluded that Canada had committed a grave human rights violation by failing to act with due diligence and according to its international human rights obligations. It’s simply shocking for Canada to now continue to claim that its existing programs and policies are adequate.”
The CEDAW report was the product of an investigation launched by the treaty-monitoring body in response to a formal complaint brought by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Feminist Alliance for International Action in 2011. Canada was given an opportunity to review and respond to the report before it was made public.
While acknowledging that more could be done, Canada’s official response disputes the finding that the insufficiency of its actions amounts to a grave human rights violation. In its defense, the government makes the claim that “close to 90 percent of all cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada have been solved.”
This claim refers to last year’s RCMP report which dealt only with homicide cases where police have identified the victims as Aboriginal and have recognized that a murder has taken place. Studies into this issue, including Amnesty International’s 2004 Stolen Sisters report, have highlighted concerns of suspicious deaths not being adequately investigated and therefore never classified as a homicide and of inadequate and inconsistent police practices for recording the Aboriginal identity of victims of crime.
The federal government response actually relies on the fact that there are currently structural impediments to accurate police recording of data on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in a subsequent explanation of why it is not prepared to fully implement CEDAW’s call for systematic data collection and reporting.
The federal government’s response also claims that “Canada is attentive to the importance of prevention” and continues to take “targeted action” to address the socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal peoples.” In fact, there is a persistent gap in quality of life between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and rather than taking adequate, special measures to close this gap, the federal government has been repeatedly shown to allocate less money per person on basic services to Indigenous communities than the provinces and territories spend within their jurisdictions.
Beatrice Vaugrante, Director-General of Amnistie International Canada Francophone said, “After this latest report, claims that the government is already on the right track in stopping violence against Indigenous women have no possible credibility. Rather than continuing to defend the status quo, governments in Canada should make a clear public commitment to working with Indigenous women to develop the kind of comprehensive national response so clearly required by the scale and severity of this violence.”
Noting the failure of governments in Canada to act on “myriad evidence-based solutions” set out in previous studies, the CEDAW report calls for “adequate resources and political will to support mandatory implementation based on a strategic integrated plan of action.” In the absence of such an approach, the Committee cautions that outcomes “will be, at best, piecemeal and fragmentary.”
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