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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
- Statistics Canada’s most recent data on the social and economic conditions of Aboriginal women and girls reveals that:
- 37 % of First Nations females (off-reserve) live in poverty (below Canada’s low-income cut-offs), as do 23 % of Métis and Inuit females. This is more than double the rate for non-Aboriginal women; (there are no poverty statistics for First Nations women living on reserve);
- Women who leave violent relationships often have to resort to reliance on social assistance, which does not provide them with enough income to support themselves and their children. Children can then be removed because of “neglect”, or because the children have witnessed violence.
- 18 % of Aboriginal women aged 15 and over are single parents, compared with 8 % of non-Aboriginal women, and they have larger families than single non-Aboriginal women;
- Aboriginal women are afraid to report violence, and often afraid to leave violent partners because of fear of removal of their children.
- 44 % of Aboriginal women and girls living on reserves live in homes that need major repairs; 31 % of Inuit women and girls live in crowded homes, compared to 3 % of non-Aboriginal females. In reserve communities, 26 % of First Nations women and girls were living in crowded conditions;
- Aboriginal women and girls are also disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated in Canada. The Aboriginal population in Canada is approximately 3.8 percent (in 2006), yet 34 percent of incarcerated women are Aboriginal, and in the last 10 years the number of federally-sentenced Aboriginal women in custody has increased by 86.4 per cent, compared to 25.7 per cent over the same period for Aboriginal men.
- 35 % of Aboriginal women aged 25 and over have not graduated from high school. Only 9 % of Aboriginal women aged 25 and over have a university degree, compared with 20 % of their non-Aboriginal counterparts;
- A disproportionate number of the most vulnerable street prostituted women are Aboriginal women, who struggle with addiction, homelessness, and chronic, often life-threatening, health problems.
- 13.5 % of Aboriginal women are unemployed, compared with 6.4 % for non-Aboriginal women. Among First Nations women, those living on reserve experienced the highest unemployment rate (20.6 %);
- Aboriginal women and girls are funneled into prostitution because of their economic and social marginalization, and engagement in prostitution further increases levels of vulnerability to coercion, abuse and violence;
- Aboriginal women are at greater risk than non-Aboriginal women of having their children removed by authorities under child protection legislation because of “neglect.” “Neglect” is often legislatively defined in a way that makes it the equivalent of poverty.
- There is a higher incidence of chronic health conditions among Aboriginal women;
- Aboriginal children are nearly ten times more likely to be “in care” than non-Aboriginal children, and experts say that there are more Aboriginal children in care now than there were during the residential school era.
- In 2001, the estimated life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal females was five years less than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
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
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