FSRN: UN to investigate violence against Aboriginal women in Canada

FSRN: UN to investigate violence against Aboriginal women in Canada

In Canada, unsolved cases of missing and murdered indigenous women are growing. Recently, the United Nations announced that it will initiate an inquiry procedure. Indigenous leaders have long called on authorities to look into the ongoing problem. FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff has the story from Montreal.

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According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, there are more than 600 unsolved cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women across the country since the 1980s.  This has been a pressing issue for Indigenous communities in Canada, as the families of these women continue to demand accountability from police forces and different levels of government.
However, some solace came for aboriginal communities in December, when the Native Women's Association and the Feminist Alliance for International Action announced that the un had initiated an international inquiry procedure into the matter. if the inquiry does go through, a team of 23 people could come to canada to investigate the crimes. the UN carried out a similar inquiry in Mexico five years ago. Jeannette Corbiere Lavell is the president of The Native Women's Association Of Canada.

[Jeanette clip (39 seconds)]
“We asked them to come to Canada, much like they did in Mexico, so that they could open up the investigation, bring all the key players together, the government, the policing forces, the families and their women, and us as an aboriginal women’s organization - we would be at the forefront to work with them and come up with some key recommendations that could be initiated right away. And maybe one of the first ones would be a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women.”

According to Lavell, last summer, The Native Women's Association Of Canada called for the federal government to conduct a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, but they got no reply. Instead,the Stephen Harper government cut all funding to Sisters in Spirit, a program of the association which conducted research and funded action to solve the issue of missing and murdered women. In its place, the Harper government devoted 10 million dollars towards a new program called Evidence to Action, which helps to fund a national police support centre, and a missing persons tip website.

Many families aren't happy with the government's new approach. Bridget Tolley's mother Gladys was killed in 2001, when a Quebec police cruiser struck her on their Algonquin reserve of Kitigan Zibi.

[Bridget clip (28 seconds)]
“You know when they made that 10 million dollar announcement for the missing and murdered, most of that money is going to the police. And if you hear the stories from families, the police aren’t doing anything. And a lot of these families have problems with the police and stuff like that, so I don’t think this is a very good idea. And they say this money is for the missing and murdered, but it’s not. It’s for the police.”

Tolley is also frustrated because she feels that money could be used towards other more effective solutions.  Many family members also draw attention to police inaction, or even worse, complicity in these deaths.

For example, last November, former Royal Canadian Mounted Police corporal Catherine Galliford revealed that her own force and Vancouver police officers would often watch porn on the job and leave work early to get drunk while they were supposed to be working on a Missing Women Task force. Galliford and 25 other current and former female Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers are now filing a class-action lawsuit against the force charging it with sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

FSRN asked Mohawk activist and former President of Quebec Native Women Ellen Gabriel what she hoped would come out of the UN inquiry.

[Ellen clip 2 - (40 seconds)]
“Well hopefully action. I mean, there is a 23 person panel of the UN that is going to be making an inquiry into Canada’s lack of action and investigating what the families have been through. So hopefully some protocols that the police will be able to use, some more awareness amongst children and youth and the roles of men and women in our communities, and for people to really understand that the root causes of violence - especially in aboriginal communities and in the society at large - stems from colonialism.”

The Canadian government did establish a committee to investigate the issue last year, and it issued a report to Parliament in December. However, Gabriel, along with Amnesty International slammed this report, calling it “watered down”, and criticizing it for ignoring and deleting any references to witness testimonials and their recommendations.

While native women wait for the inquiry to begin, they are hoping that the UN committee will be able to work with all levels of government and police forces in order to develop a more concrete course of action. Despite the federal government's lack of action, the president of the native women's association of canada expects it will cooperate with the international investigation. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN, Montreal.