Indigenous and human rights leaders in Canada welcomed the validation contained in the latest report from the United Nations Human Rights Committee as it addressed the prevalence of violence against aboriginal women, the uneven resources devoted to children in the social welfare system, and excessive uses of force in land disputes, among other issues of major concern.
“Today’s report shows that we need action now on our collective agenda for closing the human rights gap,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement on July 23, when the report was issued. “It is significant that a report on human rights in Canada focuses so much on Indigenous Peoples and indigenous rights. This speaks to the extent of our challenges and the urgent need to address them. The report is yet another call to action for Canada to work with First Nations as partners to realize our human rights, including our Aboriginal and Treaty rights.”
More than 26 human rights organizations, including Canada Without Poverty, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International Canada and Human Rights Watch, submitted statements and supporting documents to the 18-member U.N. Human Rights Committee for review under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which met from June 29 through July 24. It handed down more than a dozen recommendations, including that a national inquiry be conducted into the matter of missing and murdered indigenous women.
The committee recently conducted a periodic review of Canada and six other countries during its four-week session. Its examination found Canada wanting on a number of fronts related to civil and political freedoms, much of it regarding Indigenous Peoples. . The review, conducted every 10 years, was the first one under the seven-year-old government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The committee revisited and reiterated many other groups’ calls for a national inquiry into the unsolved cases of nearly 1,200—and growing daily—missing and murdered indigenous women, a statistic compiled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). It also spoke of the need for Canada to focus more on overall prevalence of violence against Native women.
“The Committee is concerned that indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by life-threatening forms of violence, homicides and disappearances,” the committee said in its seven-page report, Concluding Observations on the Sixth Periodic Report of Canada. “Notably, the Committee is concerned about the [Canadian government’s] reported failure to provide adequate and effective responses to this issue.”
On the upside were British Columbia’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and recently passed legislation related to missing persons; the federal government’s new Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls. But the committee said it was still “concerned about the lack of information on measures taken to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible.”
Recommendations were manifold: “The State party should, as a matter of priority: a) address the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls by conducting a national inquiry, as called for by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in consultation with indigenous women’s organizations and families of the victims; b) review its legislation at the federal, provincial and territorial levels and coordinate police responses across the country with a view to preventing the occurrence of such murders and disappearances; c) investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators and provide reparation to victims and; d) address the root causes of violence against indigenous women and girls.”
The committee also urged Canada to make a better effort to “promptly and impartially” investigate allegations of ill-treatment and excessive force by police and ensure “that those responsible for such violations are prosecuted and punished with appropriate penalties,” citing in particular “indigenous land-related protests,” as well as G20 protests in 2010 and student protests in Quebec in 2012.
Preserving the more than 60 indigenous languages still alive across Canada, removing the components of the Indian Act that strip Native women and their descendants of their status if they marry outside an indigenous tribe (it does not happen to men), and addressing the disproportionate incarceration rate of indigenous people compared to the mainstream were also on the list of recommendations. It also expressed reservations with a new anti-terror bill that took effect in June, which indigenous leaders say could infringe on Native rights.