Backstory: Disappearances of Indigenous women a ‘Canadian genocide’


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The Missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic is an issue currently affecting Indigenous people in Canada and the United States, including the First Nations, Inuit, Métis and Native American communities. It has been described as a Canadian national crisis. Wikipedia

Note: MMIWG = Missing and Murdered Indigneous Women and Girls 

Chief commissioner Marion Buller, left to right, and commissioners Brian Eyolfson, Qajaq Robinson and Michele Audette prepare the final report to give to the government at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women issues final report with sweeping calls for change

03 Jun3 2019 | John Paul Tasker  |CBC News

After more than three years, dozens of community meetings and testimony from well over 2,000 Canadians, the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry delivered its final report to the federal government at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que., today.

The report includes many recommendations to government, the police and the larger Canadian public to help address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

A copy of the final, 1,200-page report — and its 231 “calls for justice” — is available here.

At the ceremony, Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, said the calls for justice are not just “recommendations” but are “legal imperatives” that must be implemented to help end a cycle of violence that has claimed untold thousands of Indigenous women.

“This report is about these beautiful Indigenous people and the systemic factors that lead to their losses of dignity, humanity and, in too many cases, losses of life,” Buller, the first First Nations woman appointed as a provincial court judge in British Columbia, said in the preface to the long-awaited report.

“This report is about deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide,” she said.

The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women.

Citing research from Statistics Canada, the inquiry said Indigenous women and girls made up almost 25 per cent of all female homicide victims in this country between 2001 and 2015.

“As a nation, we face a crisis: regardless of which number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is cited, the number is too great. The continuing murders, disappearances and violence prove that this crisis has escalated to a national emergency that calls for timely and effective responses. This is not what Canada is supposed to be about; it is not what it purports to stand for,” Buller said.

Beyond defining the level of violence against these women as a “Canadian genocide,” recommending official language status for Indigenous languages and a guaranteed income for all Indigenous peoples, the commissioners are also recommending sweeping reforms to the justice system and policing in this country, including stiffer penalties for men who carry out spousal or partner abuse.

“We call upon the federal government to include cases where there is a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse as murder in the first degree under Section 222 of the Criminal Code,” the report reads.

First-degree murder is the most serious of all the homicide offences. If convicted, offenders usually spend longer in prison, with fewer chances for parole.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands after being presented with the final report at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The inquiry said that, too often, murder investigations are “marked by indifference” and negative stereotypes that result in Indigenous deaths and disappearances being investigated and treated differently from other cases — differences that result in fewer solved cases.

And when there is a reasonable chance of a conviction, the inquiry said, Crown attorneys too often are willing to accept plea bargains or reduced charges in exchange for guilty pleas in cases of murdered Indigenous women.

To that end, the inquiry calls for more “Indigenous-specific options” for sentencing, without specifying what exactly the government should change on that front.

It calls for further examination of the ‘Gladue principles’ in Canadian courts — a legal term that stipulates an offender’s Indigenous ancestry should be considered in the sentencing process. Inquiry commissioner Qajaq Robinson said Monday that many families told her at the hearings that, in some cases, Gladue is seen by many offenders as a “get out of jail free card.”

“While the prosecutorial decisions … may well be justified, the frequency with which this occurs understandably raises questions in the Indigenous community, particularly when the sentences on conviction escape the mandatory parole ineligibility of 10 or 25 years on the more serious charges,” the inquiry said.

To ensure more equitable outcomes, the inquiry said, more Indigenous judges, justices of the peace and police should be hired to ensure Indigenous voices are in positions of power in the criminal justice system.

Failing that, the report said a separate court system for the Indigenous population should be established to lead to more “meaningful and culturally appropriate justice practices …”

Far too many murder cases aren’t solved and don’t make it to trial at all, the inquiry said — and that means the federal funds ought to be bolstering the ranks of Indigenous police forces across the country to ensure better investigations.

“We call upon all governments to immediately and dramatically transform Indigenous policing from its current state as a mere delegation to an exercise in self-governance and self-determination over policing,” the report reads.

“The federal government’s First Nations Policing Program must be replaced with a new legislative and funding framework, consistent with international and domestic policing best practices and standards, that must be developed by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.”

The report also calls on provincial and territorial governments to improve the restraining order system by making them “available, accessible, promptly issued and effectively serviced and resourced” — to help Indigenous women stay out of harm’s way when faced with a violent partner.

Beyond facilitating access to restraining orders (or “protection orders,” as they’re often known in Canada), the inquiry is calling on the government to offer guaranteed access to financial support, legislated paid leave and disability benefits and “appropriate trauma care” to Indigenous victims of crime or other traumatic events.

“Skeptics will be fearful and will complain that the financial cost of rebuilding is too great, that enough has been done, that enough money has been spent,” said Buller. “To them I say, we as a nation cannot afford not to rebuild. Otherwise, we all knowingly enable the continuation of genocide in our own country.”

Michèle Audette, one of the commissioners and a former president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association, said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police need fundamental reforms.

The inquiry has recommended Ottawa establish “robust and well-funded Indigenous civilian police oversight bodies” to prevent police negligence and misconduct in rape and sexual assault cases. The inquiry has also recommended the RCMP hire more Inuit officers to help police Canada’s far north; there are thought to be fewer than 10 currently working with the service.

“They made an apology but we want action,” Audette said of the national police force. “We have solutions in the report. We want it now. We want to work with you. I want to work with the police … the justice system that is in place right now across Canada — it’s not functioning, it’s bitter and we know it. The women and families told us they don’t want to go through that system. That has to stop.”

‘You have my word’: PM vows to implement an action plan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received the report from the commissioners after a blanket ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History Monday.

In a short address to the hundreds of family members, elders and dignitaries gathered for the closing ceremony, Trudeau vowed to review the calls for justice and implement meaningful reforms to the country’s institutions.

Despite calls from some in the crowd for him to say the word “genocide,” Trudeau did not use that word to describe the violence faced by Indigenous women and girls. After the the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on the Indian residential school system in 2015, Trudeau called on the Conservative government of the day to take action address that instance of “cultural genocide.”

Trudeau said his government will now begin the work of developing an action plan to address the “absolutely unacceptable” levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls.

“To the survivors and families here today, and to those watching or listening at home, I want you to know that this report is not the end. The work of the commissioners, the stories they have collected, and the calls for justice they have put forward will not be placed on a shelf to collect dust,” Trudeau said.

“You have my word that my government will turn the inquiry’s calls for justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action … we must continue to decolonize our existing structures.”

Trudeau said the government already has committed to major reforms for Indigenous peoples, including new cash injections for on-reserve housing, a plan to end all long-term boil-water advisories, a fundamental overhaul of the child and family services regime, legislation for an Indigenous languages strategy and a push to foster more self-government. The last federal budget included billions of dollars in new spending for Indigenous files.

“To the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, to their families, and to survivors – we have failed you. But we will fail you no longer,” Trudeau said.

In addition to the calls for government action and new funding commitments, the report said political leaders alone cannot solve a decades-long societal problem.

The inquiry called on all Canadians to read the report, denounce violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people when they see it, and work to “decolonize” by “learning the true history of Canada.”

“Learn about and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ history, cultures, pride, and diversity, acknowledging the land you live on and its importance to local Indigenous communities, both historically and today,” the inquiry said.


National inquiry calls murders and disappearances of Indigenous women a ‘Canadian genocide’

31 May 2019 | Jorge Barrera | CBC News

The thousands of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or disappeared across the country in recent decades are victims of a “Canadian genocide,” says the final report of the national inquiry created to probe the ongoing tragedy.

The report, obtained by CBC News and verified by sources, concludes that a genocide driven by the disproportionate level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls occurred in Canada through “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies.”

“We do know that thousands of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) have been lost to the Canadian genocide to date,” said the report, titled Reclaiming Power and Place.

“The fact that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples are still here and that the population is growing should not discount the charge of genocide.”

The report states that “due to the gravity of this issue,” the inquiry is preparing a “supplementary report on the Canadian genocide of Indigenous peoples according to the legal definition of genocide,” which will be posted at a later date on the inquiry website.

Defining genocide

The inquiry’s report acknowledges that there are disagreements over what constitutes genocide and whether it could relate to Canada. The report cites research on genocide dating back to 1973, along with the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — which in 2015 released a report on Indian residential schools — and writings by Indigenous scholars as part of the evidence supporting its conclusions.

It also cites an opinion column published in 2013 in The Globe and Mail by former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine and Bernie Farber, the former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, arguing that Canada committed genocide against Indigenous peoples.

“Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report,” the report says. “The national inquiry’s findings support characterizing these acts, including violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, as genocide.”

The report runs to over 1,200 pages and includes more than 230 recommendations. It’s being released at a ceremony Monday at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet ministers, Indigenous leaders and family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are expected to attend.

The report is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of work by the $92 million National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, which was beset by a number of setbacks throughout its operations, including the loss of a commissioner and two executive directors and a high staff turnover.

The inquiry originally was supposed to submit its final report by Nov. 1, 2018, and to wrap up by Dec. 31. The inquiry commissioners asked Ottawa in March 2018 for an additional $50 million and a 24-month extension. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett rejected the request and instead granted a six-month extension.

The inquiry has held 24 hearings and events to gather statements across Canada since 2017. Those events were attended by more than 2,380 Canadians, including family members of missing and murdered women and girls, survivors of violence, Indigenous knowledge keepers, experts and officials.

The inquiry issued a statement today saying that it was “aware that an unauthorized document, purported to be the National Inquiry’s final report” had been obtained by the media, but that it wouldn’t comment on the reported findings.

“Out of respect for all those invested in the process, and most particularly the family members and survivors of violence who courageously shared their Truths over two years of public hearings and statement gatherings, the National Inquiry will proceed as planned to present its Final Report on Monday, June 3 at a solemn national ceremony to honour the missing and murdered,” said the statement.

“We will not discuss specific findings or recommendations in advance of their official publication, and continue to encourage all Canadians to read the Final Report following its formal presentation to governments.”

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office issued a statement saying the minister wouldn’t comment on the report’s findings.

“Out of respect for the independent National Inquiry and the families, we won’t comment on the details of the final report before then,” says the statement.

“After decades of demanding a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, families are finally getting the answers they have been looking for.”

The Assembly of First Nations issued a statement saying National Chief Perry Bellegarde “has said many times that the treatment of First Nations in Canada is consistent with the definition of genocide based on the many assaults on First Nations people and culture.”

The statement cited residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, forced sterilization and the “massive apprehensions” of Indigenous children by the child welfare system as examples of this “assault.”

“The violence and homicide against Indigenous women and girls is part of this pattern and governments need to work urgently with Indigenous people to stop it,” said the statement.

The report’s recommendations are divided into several categories aimed at governments, institutions and the Canadian public. The report also makes recommendations specific to Inuit, Metis and 2SLGBTQQIA.

The report urges the federal, provincial and territorial governments to develop an action plan to counter violence against Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA.


Official language status

It also calls on the federal and provincial governments to give Indigenous languages official status on par with French and English, and for Ottawa to create “an independent mechanism” to report on the implementation of the report’s recommendations before Parliament.

The recommendations include a call to change the Criminal Code to treat cases of homicides involving intimate partner violence as first-degree murder, and for a review of the use of the ‘Gladue principle’ in cases involving the deaths of Indigenous women and girls.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Gladue ruling says judges must take into consideration the historical and cultural context of Indigenous offenders — particularly the effect of factors such as residential schools or the child welfare system — when sentencing Indigenous offenders. Gladue principles are also part of the Criminal Code.

The report also calls on Canadians themselves to take action — to denounce violence and racism against Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA, learn the true history of the Indigenous experience in Canada and fully read the inquiry’s report.

How many have died?

Some estimates have suggested roughly 4,000 Indigenous women have been murdered or have disappeared over the past few decades.

The inquiry report said the true number may be impossible to establish.

“There is still not a complete understanding of the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” said the report.

The inquiry issued subpoenas to 28 police agencies across Canada seeking 479 files, but only obtained 174 due to time constraints, the age of the files, missing information or agencies refusing to turn over the documents, according to the report.

RCMP accused of shoddy reports, lack of cooperation

The inquiry’s Forensic Document Review Project, which involved two teams probing police and institutional files, dissected two reports by the RCMP related to statistics on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, according to the report.

The panel took particular aim at a statistic that claimed Indigenous men were responsible for 70 per cent of the murders of Indigenous women and girls — a figure that was promoted by Stephen Harper-era Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt in 2014 and backed by the RCMP’s own research.

The inquiry’s forensic team said that data limitations in two reports completed by the RCMP in 2014 and 2015 on the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls made the figure “unreliable … (It) should not be considered as an accurate or complete statement of the perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women and girls.”

While the report said there was an “overall willingness” on the part of municipal and regional police forces to cooperate with the inquiry, it was a different story with the RCMP.

“Most, if not all, of the police forces devoted extra resources and personnel to the task of complying with subpoenas,” said the report. “By contrast, the RCMP demonstrated reluctance to provide … the information requested.”

The report said the inquiry requested 298 case files from the RCMP through three subpoenas, but only received 107.

The inquiry and the RCMP are still battling in Federal Court over access to two files — one involving a decades-old missing persons case and another involving a homicide. A publication ban prevents publication of details in both cases.

The RCMP told the Federal Court it has now handed over 119 “investigative cases” to the inquiry.

The report said that the RCMP is responsible for policing about 40 per cent of the Indigenous population and 39 per cent of unsolved cases are within the Mounties’ jurisdiction.

“The degree to which the RCMP, represented by the Department of Justice, resisted disclosure of the files sought … created a challenge to (the forensic review teams’) ability to obtain and review the necessary documents,” said the report.

“Many of the files received contained redactions that rendered some documents unintelligible.”

For immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. This is a national, toll-free 24/7 crisis call line providing support for anyone who requires emotional assistance related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling and community-based cultural services through Indigenous Services Canada.

Original Link: National inquiry calls murders and disappearances of Indigenous women a ‘Canadian genocide’

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