(Toronto) – A landmark Canadian parliamentary report released on March 7, 2014, failed to recommend needed steps to stem violence against indigenous women, Human Rights Watch said today. The committee did not recommend either an independent national inquiry or a comprehensive national action plan on the violence, and made no recommendations to address accountability for police misconduct.
The House of Commons Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women presented its report after a year of hearings on the high levels of violence experienced by indigenous women and girls across Canada.
“The committee’s weak recommendations represent an acceptance of the shocking status quo of violence against indigenous women and girls, even by the very people who are supposed to protect them,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The status quo is a state of constant insecurity for the indigenous women and girls who face threats to their lives and feel they have nowhere reliable to turn for protection.”
Human Rights Watch research published in February 2013 documented the failure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in northern British Columbia to protect indigenous women and girls from violence. Human Rights Watch also documented abusive police behavior against indigenous women and girls, including excessive use of force, and physical and sexual assault. British Colombia has inadequate police complaint mechanisms and oversight procedures, and there is no national requirement for independent civilian investigations into all reported incidents of serious police misconduct.
Parliament established the special all-party committee in February 2013 to hold hearings on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and to propose solutions to address root causes of the violence against indigenous women. Human Rights Watch said that creating a parliamentary committee was a positive move but was no substitute for a politically independent national commission of inquiry into the violence.
On January 30, 2014, Human Rights Watch representatives testified before the committee regarding the importance of a national inquiry and the need for greater accountability for police misconduct.
The official committee report contains 16 recommendations, including calls for a public awareness campaign, “appropriate” sentences for offenders, and a DNA database for missing persons, which had already been announced in the government’s budget. Instead of recommending the development of a comprehensive national action plan, the committee called for an “action plan” to implement their recommendations. The committee’s recommendations for a victim’s bill of rights and for government authorities to consider improving data collection on violence against indigenous women are important steps, but the recommendations as a whole are insufficient to address the scope of the problem, Human Rights Watch said.
The committee membership reflected the political balance in Parliament, in which the Conservative Party holds the majority of seats. The New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberal Party each released dissenting reports on March 7, both of which recommend a national inquiry and action plan. In explaining the party’s dissent, the NDP said the official committee report “does not convey that there is a public safety emergency unfolding in every corner of the country and that a co-ordinated response is needed to address the high rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls.” The Liberal Party dissenting report stated thatthe official committee report “does not recommend any concrete actions but instead makes a series of stay-the-course, exploratory recommendations.”
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has collected data showing that nationally, between the 1960s and 2010, 582 Aboriginal women and girls were reported 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 2013 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.
“The committee’s report confirms the concern expressed by skeptics about setting up a committee at the outset – that the government would use it to avoid taking decisive action on the issue,” Rhoad said. “With what we have learned about violence against Canada’s indigenous women, never has the need for a politically independent national inquiry been clearer.”