An introduction to the solidarity campaign

Sharon McIvor Drumming in front of Parliament Building, Ottawa

Early in 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will release reports on their 2013 investigations into the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.

Logos CEDAW IACHR Combined

Many organizations and individuals have been working for years to address this violence. The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) requested formal investigations by the CEDAW Committee and the IACHR. The violence against Canada’s Aboriginal women and girls is a human rights crisis for the country, and FAFIA and NWAC believe that scrutiny by international experts will help to advance their rights.

The investigations are the first inquiries by international human rights bodies into violations of the human rights of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. We invite you to learn more and to help spread the word about the human rights of Aboriginal women and girls.


To join our network or if you have any questions, email Cherry Smiley at: solidarityfafia-afai.org

MURDERS & DISAPPEARANCES OF ABORIGINAL WOMEN AND GIRLS

Aboriginal women and girls experience extremely high levels of violence in Canada. Aboriginal women in Canada report rates of violence including domestic violence and sexual assault 3.5 times higher than non-Aboriginal women. Young Aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence. Aboriginal women and girls experience both high levels of sexual abuse and violence in their own families and communities, and high levels of stranger violence in the broader society.

NWAC and FAFIA at IACHR
Above: Jeanette Corbière Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and Sharon McIvor, Representative of FAFIA at the IACHR (March 2012).

Between 2005 and 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), through its Sisters in Spirit project, documented the disappearances or murders of 582 Aboriginal women and girls over twenty years. But in 2010, the Government of Canada cut NWAC’s funding for this ground-breaking research project and NWAC was unable to continue this work.

NWAC has always believed that the scope of the violence is far greater than the cases it has been able to document through public sources. For many years, the inadequacy of data that identifies the victims and perpetrators of murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls by race has been well known and acknowledged, including by Statistics Canada.

Late in 2013 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) commissioned a study on murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls and released its findings in May 2014. The RCMP documented 1,181 murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012 with information from over 300 police forces. This confirmed the broad scope of the violence and the over representation of Aboriginal women and girls among murdered and missing women in Canada.

Tracy-Robinson-ICAHR-Thematic-Briefing

Above: Tracy Robinson, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) chairing the Thematic Briefing with FAFIA and NWAC.

TWO FACETS OF THE VIOLENCE

Two facets of the violence have been identified by Aboriginal women, families, and non-governmental organizations:

  1. The failure of the justice system in Canada to protect Aboriginal women and girls from violence, to investigate promptly and thoroughly when they are missing or murdered, to exchange information effectively between federal, provincial and territorial policing agencies in order to solve cases, and to prosecute and punish perpetrators; and
  2. The failure of governments in Canada to address and remedy the disadvantaged social and economic conditions in which Aboriginal women and girls live, which make them vulnerable to violence and unable to escape from it.

These are intertwined facets of Canada’s failure to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, and to advance the equality of Aboriginal women and girls. The adoption of measures to address one facet, without addressing the other, will perpetuate, rather than remedy, the violence.

COMMENTARY BY INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES AND EXPERTS

In the periodic reviews of Canada that have taken place between 2005 and 2012, United Nations human right bodies have recognized the seriousness of the human rights violations that are occurring. They have also recognized the two interlocking facets of the crisis of murders and disappearances, and the range of state obligations that are engaged. United Nations treaty bodies have commented with concern, sometimes at length, including:

  • the Human Rights Committee;
  • the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination;
  • the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women;
  • the Committee Against Torture;
  • the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The extreme violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada was also documented by Rashida Manjoo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in her 2012 report on gender-based killings.

During the Universal Periodic Review of Canada by the Human Rights Council in 2009, recommendations were made to Canada regarding violence against women, and against indigenous women in particular. Canada accepted the underlying principles in these recommendations, which included recommendations that Canada remedy police failures to deal with violent crimes against Aboriginal women and girls, and that Canada address the low socio-economic status of Aboriginal women and girls as a factor that contributes to the violence against them.

In 2013, during the second Universal Periodic Review of Canada, these recommendations were made again, with more specificity, by twenty five participating countries.

However, in 2013, Canada refused to accept any recommendations “if they call for specific actions that are not under consideration at this time…”. In other words, Canada agreed only to recommendations regarding measures that it is already implementing. Canada refused recommendations regarding a national public inquiry on murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls, and a national action plan to address violence against Aboriginal women and girls.



NATIONAL PUBLIC INQUIRY

In Canada, support for a national public inquiry is broad. It is supported by the National Aboriginal Organizations, by the governments of all provinces and territories, by women’s organizations, human rights organizations, trade unions, and faith groups. Despite this, the Government of Canada refuses to establish a national public inquiry. Neither has it taken the active and co-ordinated steps necessary to address the causes and consequences of the violence.

OUR SOLIDARITY NETWORK

We are proud of our growing solidarity network. Click the button below to view/join our list of partners and supporters:

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The CEDAW Inquiry

Article 8 Inquiry

The Committee can initiate an inquiry “if it receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations by a State Party of rights set forth in the Convention”.

Undertaking an inquiry into systemic discrimination is one of the powers of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (UN CEDAW Committee). In countries like Canada that have agreed to the be bound by the terms of both the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Convention) and the Optional Protocol to the Convention, the Committee can initiate an inquiry “if it receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations by a State Party of rights set forth in the Convention.”

CEDAW Inquiry in Canada

Rally in front of Ottawa Parliament

In 2008, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women reviewed Canada’s 6th and 7th reports on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In its reports to the Committee at the time of this review, both the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) brought to the attention of the Committee the murders and disappearances of hundreds of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. In its Concluding Observations, the Committee urged Canada to address this issue on an urgent basis.

Canada was asked to report back on its actions in one year, and it did so in 2010. That year, the CEDAW Committee informed Canada that it “regrets the lack of substantive progress … and the lack of measures for prevention of such cases in the future.”

In January 2011 and September 2011, FAFIA and NWAC requested the Committee to initiate an inquiry into the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

In December 2011, the Committee announced that it had initiated an inquiry under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol.

A report from this inquiry is expected early in 2015.

Jump to CEDAW Submissions & Reports


Timeline

  • UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) comes into force

  • Canada ratifies CEDAW

  • UN Optional Protocol to CEDAW comes into force

  • Canada ratifies Optional Protocol to CEDAW

  • FAFIA draws attention to missing and murdered Aboriginal women during CEDAW Committee’s review of Canada’s compliance

  • The CEDAW Committee states concern about the disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women and girls. The Committee recommends Canada begin thorough investigations and examine the root causes of the violence

  • Canada reports back on actions it has taken in response to CEDAW recommendations. NWAC, FAFIA and others provide follow-up reports indicating Canada had taken no adequate action

  • CEDAW Committee concludes that their recommendations have not been implemented

  • FAFIA makes a formal request to the CEDAW Committee to initiate an inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol

  • NWAC makes a formal request to the CEDAW Committee for an inquiry under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol

  • CEDAW Committee announces it will conduct an inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls

  • FAFIA and NWAC request the CEDAW Committee to come to Canada to hear directly from Aboriginal women and from women’s and human rights organizations as a part of their inquiry. The letter is endorsed by over 150 organizations

  • CEDAW Committee comes to Canada to investigate murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls

Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Optional Protocol

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) oversees the implementation of the Convention in the states that have signed on and agreed to be bound by it. (This formal agreement is usually called ratification). Canada ratified the Convention on December 10, 1981.

The Convention requires Canada to remove all discrimination against women in law, policy and practice. It includes a number of specific rights:

  • The right to equal personhood and to equal protection of the law
  • The right to vote and hold public office
  • The right to equal education
  • The rights to work and equal pay for work of equal value
  • The right to social security
  • The right to safe working conditions
  • The right to health care, including family planning
  • The right to adequate living conditions, including adequate housing, and
  • The rights to parenthood and to equal legal rights during marriage.

Optional Protocol

We require nothing less than transformation: of the relationship between Aboriginal women and girls and those who are supposed to help and protect them; between Aboriginal peoples and the government, police and justice systems; and of the way that we think about and respond to violence in Canada.Michèle Audette, President, NWAC

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is a separate supplementary document to the Convention, which not only allows the Committee to initiate an inquiry but also allows an individual or a group of individuals to submit a complaint (called a communication) to the Committee if they believe a Convention right has been violated and the complaint cannot be resolved in Canada. Canada ratified the Protocol on October 18, 2002.

So Canada has agreed to fully implement the rights in the Convention, and also agreed that Canadian women can use the procedures in the Protocol if their Convention rights are violated.

In response to a communication alleging a violation of one of these rights, the Committee can decide whether a violation of a right has occurred and, if it has, make recommendations that the state must consider and respond to.

It’s not only a Manitoba issue. It’s not a Winnipeg issue. It’s not a Regina, Saskatoon or Edmonton issue. It’s not a ‘[highway] of tears’ issue. It’s not a Pickton murders rampage-type issue. There are 1,200 murdered and missing women, for Pete’s sake.Eric Robinson, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Province of Manitoba

Inquiry Submissions & Reports

The following are the submissions that FAFIA and NWAC made to the UN CEDAW Committee regarding the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.


















To join our network or if you have any questions, email Cherry Smiley at: solidarityfafia-afai.org

The inter-american commission on human rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is the consultative and advisory body on human rights which is part of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS, which is based in Washington D.C., is a regional organization of the United Nations for the 35 independent states in the Americas. The Commission has seven members from different member states. As a member of the OAS, Canada is bound to respect, protect and fulfill the rights set out in the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (sic).

The IACHR meets twice a year and, at each session, it holds thematic briefings. Non governmental organizations (NGOs) from any member state of the OAS can apply for an opportunity to provide an in-person briefing for the Commission on any important human rights issue. The government of the state is required to send representatives to attend and reply. Thematic briefings are like mini hearings. Each briefing lasts one hour.

NWAC and FAFIA at the IACHR 2012
Above: NWAC and FAFIA representatives at the March 2012 Thematic Briefing before the IACHR in Washington, DC.

IACHR Investigation in Canada

Tracy Robison and Marie-Rose-Antoine at IACHR 2012

FAFIA and NWAC applied and were granted two thematic briefings in March 2012 and March 2013 on murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. (See following submissions and videos). As a result of these briefings, the Commission decided to send two Commissioners, Tracy Robinson and Dinah Shelton, to Canada in August 2013 for a visit to investigate and report on this human rights issue. Release of the report on this IACHR investigation is expected in early 2015.

Left: Tracy Robinson (left), President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Rose-Marie Antoine (right), Rapporteur for Canada, at the thematic briefing with FAFIA and NWAC.


To join our network or if you have any questions, email Cherry Smiley at: solidarityfafia-afai.org

Thematic Briefing Videos

Other Procedures at the IACHR

An individual or group in Canada can submit a complaint (called a petition) to the Commission if, in their view, Canada has violated any of the rights that are set out in the Declaration. The Declaration includes rights that are key for women, including:

  • The right to life, liberty, and security of the person
  • The right to equality before the law and due process of law
  • The right to education and culture
  • The right to work and fair pay
  • The right to social security.

Canadians can seek the assistance of the Commission regarding violations of any right in the Declaration, and a petition can refer to either an act by Canada or a failure to act. A petition can lead to oral hearings before the Commission, and to reports, recommendations, and to a visit to Canada to investigate.

Canada has not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, or other conventions, like the Convention of Belem do Para on the rights of women, which are under the IACHR’s jurisdiction. Because of this lack of formal agreement, Canada is not bound to respect the rights in them. Therefore Canadians cannot make complaints to the IACHR regarding violations of rights in the Convention. Also, human rights issues in Canada cannot be taken to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, as Canada has not recognized the jurisdiction of this Court.

Tracy Robinson thinking pensively at IACHR

Nonetheless, the IACHR is an important and useful human rights body for Canadian women.
Click here to find out more about IACHR procedures.

Documents




To join our network or if you have any questions, email Cherry Smiley at: solidarityfafia-afai.org