soleiltropiques (soleiltropiques) wrote in ontd_political,

On Canada's National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

OP: A bit of background on this issue. In Canada, indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence, when one compares them to national averages. For instance, according to a 2009 government survey of the ten provinces, Aboriginal women were nearly three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to report being a victim of a violent crime; this was true regardless of whether the violence was perpetrated by a stranger or by a spouse (i.e. these figures are as reported by Amnesty International in 2014).

The previous Canadian federal government, of Conservative (i.e. really right-wing) Stephen Harper, was replaced by the current government of the Liberal Party and its leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (i.e. these elections were held on October 19th, 2015). The previous government's position on this issue was that most of the cases of murdered indigenous women had been solved and that this was "a law-and-order problem and (...) [that] police have solved most of the crimes". They refused to hold an inquiry on this issue. (Needless to say, their position was widely criticized.)

The Trudeau government, in a welcome change, has agreed to hold an inquiry. This past week, the details of the inquiry were announced by the federal government, including the names of the five commissioners. The inquiry will begin Sept. 1 and run until Dec. 31, 2018, at an estimated cost of $53.8 million, higher than the $40 million originally earmarked in the budget.

So this is, overall, good news.

I therefore thought I would make a post about this very important issue.


Family members of missing and murdered women and girls react to inquiry

WINNIPEG – It’s an emotional day for family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Details of the national inquiry set to begin in September were announced Wednesday morning.

Bernadette Smith, who’s sister Claudette Osborne went missing in 2008, said she’s feeling positive.

“I want to have faith in these five commissioners,” said Smith.

Smith, who was fighting back tears during a live broadcast of the event on APTN said she brought her 13-year-old daughter to the event “because I fear for her safety.”

“Just because an inquiry has been called doesn’t mean our pain goes away, that we have answers or that these statistics don’t continue to rise,” said Smith. “There’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done.”

Smith and her family still have no answers eight years after her sister disappeared.

She doesn’t believe people will find closure because an inquiry has been called but she is hoping for changes.

“We dealt with systemic racism on the front line levels with the way our cases were handled with police. We fully expect that to change,” said Smith.
Lorelei Williams was overwhelmed and full of mixed emotions watching the announcment.

In 1977, her aunt Belinda Williams disappeared. Decades later, Lorelei cousin’s DNA was found on the farm of convicted killer Robert Pickton
“People have been fighting for this for so many years and I actually can’t believe it’s happening” said Williams on the live APTN broadcast.

But she also has reservations.

“I find it hard to actually believe them because I don’t trust the government,” she said.

Diane Redsky, the executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, an organization on the front lines working to protect Indigenous children and keep families together, called Wednesday a “monumental time in our history.”

“It’s important that we as a nation all rally behind the commissioners and support the work,” said Redsky.

Redsky felt it was also important to acknowledge all the advocates who for decades have pushed for an inquiry.

The final report is to be submitted before November 1, 2018, setting out the commissioners’ findings and recommendations.


OP: Here is some more information on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada (i.e. referred to as MMIW in Canadian media). Please note that the article below is from April 2015 (i.e. when the previous government was still in place).
Breaking one of Canada's best kept secrets: MMIW

"Never before has the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women commanded public and media attention to the degree that it has in the last few years," says No More Silence co-founder Audrey Huntley.
"Never before has the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women commanded public and media attention to the degree that it has in the last few years," says No More Silence co-founder Audrey Huntley. (CBC)

Audrey Huntley will be speaking at the Nobel Women's Initiative conference on the Defence of Women Human Rights Defenders, April 24-26, The Hague.

Canada is not often seen as a place where widespread human rights violations against the indigenous population occur on a regular basis.

Much of the international community's perception of this country is still that of pristine nature and polite inhabitants with health care.

In fact, Canada's indigenous population is over-policed and under-protected, both men and women are incarcerated at rates much higher than the non-indigenous population and face police violence and deaths in custody all too often.

Yet our own mainstream media is finally no longer able to ignore one of this settler colonial country's best-kept secrets: Ongoing genocidal violence against the indigenous population — and more specifically the targeting of indigenous women, girls, transgender and two-spirited people.

Missing and Murdered: Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
· Families of missing and murdered indigenous women give police a failing grade

Never before has the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women commanded public and media attention to the degree that it has in the last few years.

The demands of community leaders, family members of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, as well as opposition parties to hold a national inquiry is supported by various reports from national and international human rights organizations.

These have cast light on the complicity of Canadian police  — and not only their failure to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings, disappearances and extreme forms of violence.

National and international reports raise alarms

In February 2013, Human Rights Watch, a U.S. based human rights group, released its alarming report on the relationship of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and indigenous women and girls in Northern B.C., entitled, Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada.

RCMP accused of rape in report on B.C. aboriginal women
Murdered and missing aboriginal women deserve inquiry, rights group says

More recently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also weighed in, publishing a damning 127-page report in January 2015 that named police failure and systemic discrimination against Canada's indigenous community as contributing to the plight of missing or murdered indigenous women, and that poverty is at the root of the violence.

In 2014, Dr. Maryanne Pearce shared research she had gathered over a seven year period, entitled An Awkward Silence. It included a database that put the number of cases at over 800, significantly higher than numbers cited previously.

Just months later, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [or RCMP] released their own National Operational Review on the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. They put the numbers of murdered indigenous women between 1980 and 2012 at 1,017, and cited another 164 as missing under suspicious circumstances.

Activists and community members believe these numbers to be low. They point out that inadequate tracking of ethnicity of victims, and problems with RCMP methodology in identifying indigeneity, indicate that many women would not have been recognized as such.

While indigenous women make up only 4.3 per cent of the total female population, they represent 16 percent of all female homicide victims over more than three decades according to the report.

Deafening silence in mainstream society

It was the deafening quiet in mainstream society around this crisis that prompted the founding of No More Silence in Toronto, Ontario over 10 years ago.

I was approached by Barbara Williams, a white woman ally, and we formed the coalition in 2004.

Having lived and worked in Vancouver's downtown eastside in the late 90s when serial killer Robert Pickton was on his rampage, I was inspired by the many grannies and aunties who had been working in the Women's Memorial March organizing committee since 1991.

When Pickton, who had been arrested and released in 1997 — and had then gone on to kill 18 more women — was facing trial on 33 murder charges, the Toronto group also began to hold an annual ceremony every February 14th at police headquarters.

We hold the ceremony in solidarity with the Vancouver march, and to point out that serial killers like Pickton are far from aberrations.

Our first call stated: "We stand in defense of our lives and to demonstrate against the complicity of the state in the ongoing genocide of indigenous women and the impunity of state institutions and actors (police, RCMP, coroners' offices, the courts and an indifferent federal government) that prevents justice for all indigenous peoples."

No More Silence chooses to be at police headquarters in order to highlight the impunity that Canada affords killers of poor and marginalized women — women not deemed worthy of state protection, and indigenous women who are targets of the genocidal policies inherent to a settler state.

We choose to practice ceremony in honouring our missing sisters "both as an act of love for those who are gone and those who remain behind to mourn as well as an assertion of sovereignty."

Canada needs inquiry, families need answers

The Canadian government has consistently refused demands for a public inquiry, which would acknowledge the gravity of the crisis.

An inquiry or commission could at the very least establish a public record, and if led and informed by family members and indigenous women themselves, examine more than the root causes that are already known.

It could go a step further and shed light on why the almost 700 recommendations made on this subject in over 40 reports have not been implemented.

More importantly, however, in my view, is the need of family members for answers in unsolved cases. The under-investigation and police negligence in their duty of care needs to be revealed for what it is, and can only be done so if records are shared.

All of us in No More Silence are well aware that the violence inherent to settler colonialism will only end with decolonization and thus prioritize community capacity and relationship building to this end.

Collaborating with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Families of Sisters In Spirit we have created a community-led database.

It's time for community to build our own structures independent of government and institutional funding. The purpose of the database is to honour our women and provide family members with a way to document their loved ones passing.

OP: I think an important comment here is that a lot of Canadians still seem to believe that indigenous women are killed by their partners. While I'm certainly NOT saying that domestic violence isn't a hugely important factor in the numbers of MMIW, thinking that this is the only issue really lets non indigenous Canadians 'off the hook', IMO, since it ignores issues of systemic racism against all indigenous peoples.

Nearly half of murdered indigenous women did not know or barely knew killers, Star analysis shows.

Additional links:
-MMIW: New unsolved cases added to CBC's database: the Canadian news agency has attempted to create a database of MMIW.
-The BBC also has a detailed report on MMIW in the city of Winnipeg, Canada.
-Pain is ‘never-ending’ for children of missing and murdered indigenous women. (This article is on the effects on the families of MMIW.)

An important case which underscores the systematic bias against indigenous peoples in Canada is the Robert Pickton case: Pickton was a serial killer in the province of British Columbia, Canada, who is thought to have killed roughly 30 women. An inquiry into the police's conduct in this case found that, because the victims were poor, sometimes drug-addicted sex workers in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside and largely indigenous, the police did not act as diligently as they should have, which allowed Pickton to kill women unimpeded for years.

Also, I refer readers to a previous post of mine to this group: More aboriginal women allege abuse at hands of Quebec provincial police. (This describes sexual abuse of indigenous women by provincial police in Quebec, Canada.)

OP: Two well known and absolutely tragic cases are described below as further examples of why this inquiry is so necessary.

The first case is that of Helen Betty Osborne, a young indigenous woman.
The 19-year-old was abducted as she walked down the streets of The Pas, Manitoba, Canada, in November 1971. Later that night, she was stabbed to death with a screwdriver dozens of times. It would take 15 years before murder charges were laid. An inquiry determined that racism, sexism and indifference in the community marred the police investigation from the beginning. Her brutal murder 44 years ago, and the long road to justice, are the subject of a recent graphic novel aimed at educating the next generation about missing and murdered aboriginal women.

A second case is that of Tina Fontaine. "Tina Michelle Fontaine, 15, was a young and carefree girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. She went missing in late July 2014 and her body was found wrapped in a bag in Winnipeg’s Red River on Aug. 17, 2014. On Dec. 11, 2015, the Winnipeg Police Service announced that Raymond Joseph Cormier, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Fontaine."

Finally, some have pointed out that this inquiry will not directly address the major issue of violence against indigenous men and boys. (See also here.) OP: Hopefully the inquiry into MMIW will however result in issues of systemic racism being addressed and hopefully this will benefit indigenous men as well. (I'm hoping.)
Tags: *trigger warning: racism, *trigger warning: sexual assault, *trigger warning: violence, canada, first nations, human rights, indigenous people, race / racism, sexual assault, womens rights
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