Canada Launches Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women

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missing and murdered women

On Wednesday, the Canadian government announced the details of the long-awaited The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which will examine the causes of the high rates of violence against indigenous women.

The inquiry, which will be independent from the federal government, will begin this September and end December 2018. The five-person commission includes indigenous rights activists and First Nations law experts and will be led by British Columbia’s first female First Nations judge, Marion Buller.

It has an estimated cost of $53.8 million — almost $14 million greater than previous projections. The government also pledged to spend a further $16.7 million over four years to develop family information liaison units and to increase funding for culturally appropriate victims’ services.

“The spirits of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will be close in our hearts and in our minds as we do our work,” said Buller after the announcement on Wednesday. “The families’ and the survivors’ losses, pain, strength, and courage will inspire our work.”

Under the Inquiries Act, the commission has the authority to “summon witnesses and compel documents.”

The inquiry is certainly long overdue, but some of the details announced Wednesday have been met with criticism. Amnesty International criticized the terms for not specifically addressing police procedures — a serious issue given the many indigenous women who have suffered abuse at the hands of police.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada also said that they welcome the inquiry but are concerned that “there is no explicit mention of the need to work with the justice partners in order to make appropriate recommendations to ensure that there are changes in that system.” The group added that the inquiry “missed [an] opportunity” by not including a process for families to reopen old cases.

In Canada, indigenous women are three times more likely to be victims of violence than other women. They are six times more likely to be murdered. According to a 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, between 1980 and 2012 the police recorded about 1,200 homicides and unresolved disappearances of indigenous females.

The actual number of victims is likely much higher due to under-reporting and improper police investigations. Patty Hajdu, the minister for the status of women, has suggested that it could be as high as 4,000.

The investigation, one of Justin Trudeau’s campaign promises, comes more than a decade after indigenous groups first requested it. The previous Conservative government refused to launch an inquiry despite explicit requests from Indigenous communities and the United Nations to do so.

Shortly after the Liberal government took office in December, they held 17 information sessions with 2,000 friends and family members of the missing and murdered indigenous women. The government then developed a series of recommendations based on the meetings.

“[The family members] left no doubt in our minds about the urgent need to examine the underlying and deep, systemic challenges of this violence, including racism, sexism and the sustained impact of colonialism,” Bennett said.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress