Chief commissioner Marion Buller didn’t mince words when delivering findings from the 2019 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
After reviewing submissions and testimony from 2,380 survivors, family members, experts and elders, Buller and the commission labeled violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersexual, asexual) people a race-based genocide.
“This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations right, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death and suicide in Indigenous populations,” the report reads.
Buller and commissioners Michele Audette, Qajaq Robinson and Brian Eyolfson defended those comments in a 43-page legal analysis that accompanied the 1,200 page main report. In it, they acknowledged that the judgement required a considerable body of evidence, and that it had not been made before a formal judicial body or tribunal. They also wrote that they “did not intend to fully demonstrate all the elements of a genocidal policy,” because they lacked direct access to all the related evidence.
However, the commission argued that their mandate was to assess the root causes of violence against Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). After hearing, watching and listening to testimony at 24 hearings across Canada, they were confident in their decision.
“Legally speaking, this genocide consists of a composite, wrongful act that triggers the responsibility of the Canadian state under international law,” the legal analysis reads. “Canada has breached its international obligations through a series of actions and omissions taken as a whole, and this breach will persist as long as genocidal acts continue to occur and destructive polices are maintained.”
Although Buller and the commission didn’t hesitate to call the tragedy genocide, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau did.
Calls for him to use the word could be heard while he gave his remarks to close out Monday’s ceremony. Trudeau said many people would find this report difficult, challenging and uncomfortable. At that time, however, he declined to use the word genocide.
“We take this day as an essential day in the history and the future of this country, and we will walk forward together,” Trudeau said during the ceremony in Gatineau. “I refuse to let our present and our future mirror our past. To the missing and murder Indigenous women and girls of Canada, to their families, and to survivors, we have failed you. We will fail you no longer. In the days ahead, let us walk forward together as partners hand in hand as we right these wrongs and seek justice for the Indigenous people of Canada.”
Trudeau reversed course later in the day when speaking before a women’s conference in Vancouver.
“We promised Canadians that we would start this process, a process that would ultimately chart a path for the future,” he said during his opening remarks at Women Deliver 2019. “Earlier this morning, the National Inquiry formally presented their final report in which they found that the tragic violence that Indigenous women and girls have experienced amounts to genocide. The strength of the families and survivors who bravely shared their truths has shown us the way forward. We will do a thorough review of this report and develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.”
Indigenous women more likely to experience violence and marginalization
According to the commission’s report, Indigenous women and girls are more likely to experience rates of overcrowding and homelessness, more likely to experience disproportionately low rates of educational achievement and more likely to experience disproportionately high rates of unemployment.
The commission wrote that those problems, particularly a lack of housing, forced Indigenous women and girls into staying in abusive relationships, joining gangs or resorting to sex industry work just to meet their basic needs. This is turn made them more vulnerable to violence.
The commission also wrote that services and organizations dedicated to helping Indigenous women and girls were “often plagued by huge gaps in resources and infrastructure,” and were often located in unsafe areas.
A 2014 RCMP report stated that Indigenous men were responsible for deaths of Indigenous women in girls in 70 per cent of all cases. However, a forensic document review contained in the report said the oft-cited statistic is not factually sound because the sample size was too small
“As a result of the limitations of the 2014 report dataset, the 70 per cent figure is unreliable,” the report reads. “(It) should not be considered as an accurate or complete statement of the perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
Creation of National Indigenous and Human Rights Tribunal and National Task Force to re-investigate open files among list of 231 recommendations
Monday’s report included 231 Calls for Justice targeting media, law enforcement, education, and the courts, among others. The majority of those calls, however, were directed at municipal, provincial, federal and Indigenous governments.
The commission wrote that changing the structures and systems that led to so many murders, assaults and disappearances required deliberate action from all levels of government. Those recommendations include creating and implementing a National Action Plan for MMIWG, and conducting an annual review to measure its progress. The commission also called for the creation of a National Indigenous and Human Rights Tribunal, the hiring of a National and Indigenous Human Rights Ombudsperson to receive complaints and evaluate government services, and the creation of an Anti-Racism and Anti-Sexism National Action Plan to end stereotypes of Indigenous women and girls.
“The evidence makes clear that changing the structures and the systems that sustain violence in daily encounters is not only necessary to combat violence, but is an essential legal obligation for all governments in Canada,” the report reads. “We target many of our Calls for Justice at government for this reason.”
The commission also made 37 recommendations for police departments, courts, law societies and bar associations.
The primary target was the Gladue principle, a practice based on a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that said judges should take an Indigenous offender’s background into consideration before sentencing. The goal was to create a more restorative justice approach to help reduce the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canadian jails.
However, the commission called for more research into the Gladue principle, and the relevant sections of the criminal code it’s based on, to determine how it relates to violence against women and girls.
“In any event, sentencing, as it is currently carried out, is not resulting in creating safer communities or reducing the rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” the report reads.
The limited-duration posting policy was another target. It’s used by the RCMP to govern how long officers can be posted in remote communities. The commission wants police services across the country to end the policy and create a new one with more focus on building and sustaining long-term community relationships.
The report also calls for police departments to improve their communication protocols when it comes to dealing with families of missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and calls for the creation of a National Task Force to reinvestigate all unsolved files involving missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.