National Commission of Inquiry Needed
January 21, 2014
Canada needs to put an end to the shameful violence against indigenous women and girls, including by the very people who should be protecting them. Canada needs to set up a national commission of inquiry and develop a national action plan to assure the safety of indigenous women and girls.
Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher

(Toronto) – The Canadian government has failed to address adequately the problem of violence against indigenous women and girls, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014. The government should reverse its decision rejecting appointment of a national commission of inquiry into the issue.

Human Rights Watch research shows that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia do not adequately protect indigenous women and girls from violence. Police have also subjected indigenous women and girls to excessive use of force, physical assault, rape, and other sexual violence. Canada has inadequate police complaint mechanisms and oversight procedures, and no mandate for independent civilian investigations into all serious police misconduct.

“Canada needs to put an end to the shameful violence against indigenous women and girls, including by the very people who should be protecting them,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Canada needs to set up a national commission of inquiry and develop a national action plan to assure the safety of indigenous women and girls.”

In the 667-page report, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.

In February 2013, the federal government referred the Human Rights Watch reportabout police mistreatment of indigenous women and girls in British Columbia to a complaints commission for investigation. The commission, while civilian led, often works closely with the police and does not have the authority to issue binding recommendations. The investigation is ongoing.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has collected data showing that nationally, between the 1960s and 2010, 582 Aboriginal women and girls went missing or were murdered in Canada. Thirty-nine percent of those cases occurred after 2000. Comprehensive data is no longer available since the government cut funding for the organization’s database, and police forces in Canada do not consistently collect race and ethnicity data.

More than a dozen countries raised the issue during the periodic review of Canada’s human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council in April. Both the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sent delegations to Canada to investigate.

After a visit in October, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, endorsed the call for a national inquiry. Canada’s provinces and territories, the Assembly of First Nations, and many organizations have made similar calls. Public national inquiries allow for an impartial investigation into issues of national importance.

Canada generally has a reputation as a defender of human rights at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said. However, remedial action is needed by federal and provincial governments on a number of fronts, particularly the rights of indigenous peoples, of people affected abroad by Canada’s extractive industries, and of ethnic and religious minorities in Quebec. Federal government actions, including funding cuts, threatened revocation of nonprofit status and intrusive monitoring, have undermined the ability of independent groups to advocate change, impeding progress on a range of human rights issues.