For many, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to spend time with their loved one. But February 14th also has another meaning in Canada. Since 1991, a walk is organized in many cities across the country in remembrance of the Stolen sisters, the 1186 indigenous women who have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada since 1980.
According to Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) statistics, over the last decade, Indigenous women and girls have been 7 times more likely to be murdered than all other women and girls in Canada.
Yet the government still refuses to conduct a nationwide independent public inquiry and Prime Minister Stephen Harper persists on denying the existence of a systemic issue. After the murdered body of fifteen years old Tina Fontaine was found near the Red River in Winnipeg in August 2014, PM Harper declared "It's very clear that there has been very fulsome study of this particular … of these particular things. They're not all one phenomenon. We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime."
But this phenomenon is not new. Already in 2004, Amnesty International published a report called “Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada” which documented the stories of hundreds of sisters, daughters and mothers taken by violence.
Mobilisation is increasing across the country and the voices demanding a nationwide inquiry are louder than ever. The social medias campaign “Am I Next?” launched last year to convince the federal authorities to launch an independent public inquiry, has accelerated even further the spread of the message.
These voices are even being heard beyond Canada’s border. Notably, on January 12, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report urging the Canadian government to undertake a comprehensive national response to violence against Indigenous women and girls, including an independent public inquiry. The report urges Canada to deal with “the persistence of longstanding social and economic marginalization through effective measures to combat poverty, improve education and employment, guarantee adequate housing and address the disproportionate application of criminal law against indigenous people.” An effective response to this violence requires not only that the perpetrators be brought to justice, but that discrimination at all levels of society, including within police forces, be addressed, and barriers to Indigenous women’s safety dismantled, in order to prevent such crimes being committed.
According to Native Women’s Association of Canada and many others, a comprehensive response must include measures such as:
* Training, protocols and accountability measures to ensure effective and unbiased police response to all cases of missing and murdered women;
* Independent review of cases where there are reasons to believe that the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls has not been adequately investigated;
* Consistent ongoing collection and publication of comprehensive national statistics on rates of violent crime against Indigenous women;
* Adequate, stable funding to the frontline organizations that provide culturally-appropriate services such as shelter, support and counselling for Indigenous women and girls and their communities; and
* Elimination of inequalities in the services available to Aboriginal families, such as on reserve children’s services, and other measures to close the economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Amnesty International Canada recently released a report on human rights in Canada and urges the government to take the appropriate measures.
One wonders what it is going to take to convince the Canadian government to meaningfully address the issue and, at last, ensure that Indigenous women and girls are provided adequate protection against racist and misogynistic violence.
Posted by Eloise Ouellet-Descote