The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) have announced that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will conduct an inquiry into the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls in the country.
The inquiry procedure is used to investigate what the committee believes to be very serious violations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” reads a press statement.
In January and in September 2011, faced with the continuing failures of Canadian governments to take effective action in connection with the murders and disappearances, FAFIA and NWAC requested the committee to launch an inquiry, the statement continues.
“FAFIA and NWAC requested this inquiry because violence against Aboriginal women and girls is a national tragedy that demands immediate and concerted action,” said Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, president of NWAC. She said she is extremely happy that the U.N will be conducting the inquiry.
“The Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has realized that Canada isn’t doing anything and are coming to check things out.”
Corbiere-Lavall said the inquiry may begin in February 2012.
A similar U.N inquiry took place in Mexico, where the government and police stepped up to the plate and cooperated with the committee. So groups here are hoping for the same cooperation from the Canadian government.
But Canada’s track record on the issue is underwhelming.
Aboriginal women and girls continue to go missing, experience violence or are killed while an apathetic Canada stands by. The government knows the issue persists, as evidenced by the Sisters In Spirit Campaign, which collected proof that more than 600 Aboriginal women and girls have gone missing in this country over the past number of years. Some argue that number is higher.
Last summer, the Native Women’s Association called for the federal government to conduct a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Canada did not answer.
That call came after NWAC was shut out of the British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
Corbiere-Lavall said in a statement, “...we have no confidence that [the BC inquiry] will be able to produce a fair and balanced report.”
The B.C inquiry, headed by former BC attorney general Wally Oppal, is looking into how police investigations failed to identify Robert Pickton as a serial killer sooner than they did. The inquiry has been blasted for not including enough funding to cover legal fees for more individuals and groups. Because of that, many pulled out of the inquiry, including NWAC, two Downtown Eastside Vancouver groups, an area from which Pickton’s victims went missing, and Amnesty International.
News reports indicate police and government have about 14 fully funded lawyers while community groups and victims’ families have a total of three.
Corbiere-Lavall said she’s been keeping tabs on the inquiry and has many contacts and friends in Vancouver who she keeps in touch with.
“Everyone says it’s not really touching on issues, like the systemic racism, and the major flaws that delayed justice. So it’s quite flawed and I think many people realize this,” she said.
Gladys Radek is also keeping a close eye on the inquiry. Radek has a keen interest in the inquiry and the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in the country. The Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en First Nations woman lost someone close. Her niece Tamara Chipman disappeared along Highway 16, dubbed the ‘Highway of Tears, in 2005.
Radek has helped organize the ‘Walk4Justice’ campaign, an annual walk along the highway to bring awareness to missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The group has also walked to Ottawa twice.
Radek says she has no faith in the Oppal Inquiry.
“There were flaws right from the beginning. Wally Oppal was top cop in BC at the time the inquiry was called a decade ago, and Oppal at the time deemed an inquiry unnecessary... The last decade has been spent honoring Robert Pickton’s rights, through the government, through the court system. The only ones winning in this are the lawyers and the cops and the judicial system.” Radek states all of this in a matter of fact voice.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women was also off to a good start when it announced it would look into violence against Aboriginal women, but lost points upon the release of a languid report. The report has been criticized by Amnesty International and the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
The committee travelled across Canada for much of 2011 to hear from women’s groups and individuals about violence against Aboriginal women, and also hear recommendations from frontline people. The 68-page report, entitled ‘Ending Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls: Empowerment - A New Beginning did not address the call for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in the country.
As far as Amnesty International is concerned, the House of Commons report was actually a step in the wrong direction.
Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International Canada Coordinator in support of Indigenous people, said “Unfortunately, just about everything is missing from the report.”
Benjamin also says the principles touted at the onset of the announcement were missing from the report; principles such as local level solutions to prevent violence against Aboriginal women, a comprehensive plan of action, and a response consistent with the U.N Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“What the new report principally does is that it talks about the things that are already in place, initiatives that are already underway in different programs in different departments to address violence against Aboriginal women,” said Benjamin. Plus, “the report doesn’t make any commitment or concrete recommendations to actually dramatically change the government’s response.”
Benjamin adds, “If the current way of addressing violence against Aboriginal women was adequate, we wouldn’t be seeing such horrendous rates of violence. Clearly we need a different approach in scale, a different approach in nature.”
Corbiere-Lavall also called the report disappointing, and said, “there were a few good recommendations but the main recommendation for a call for a national public inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women wasn’t even addressed. The report wasn’t anything that women or organizations could say was solid.”