Written by Mina Mahdavi and Gild Agyei, Policy Researchers. Reviewed by Diana Anton, Deputy Director, Strategic Policy, and Lara Isiolaotan, Director, Strategic Policy.
This report examines the impact of COVID-19 on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Completed in June 2019, Canada’s National Inquiry on the MMIWG revealed the case as an act of genocide. Though concrete strategies to obtain justice have been laid out in the inquiry, COVID-19 has delayed the government’s plans to act on its findings. Considering the disproportionate violence against Indigenous peoples, and the continued delay of justice, it was imperative that we explore the issue, and recommend workable solutions.
In this research, we assessed various government documents, academic journals, news articles, non-governmental organization reports, but we emphasized the use of truthful accounts and documents from Indigenous voices themselves.
The background explores the roots of genocide as seen in Canada’s legacy of land dispossession, cultural erasure and violence. These factors are inextricably linked to the disappearances and murders seen today. In Canada, statistics show that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other women in Canada. Additionally, “between 2001 and 2015, homicide rates for Indigenous women were nearly six times higher than for non-Indigenous women”. Such figures highlighted the necessity of the National Inquiry, which surveyed Indigenous women and girls across Canada to determine the magnitude of the problem.
Scanning the United States, Australia and New Zealand regarding their efforts in safeguarding Indigenous rights, we found insights that were applicable to the Canadian context. Among the most significant were: the importance of data collection in boosting the conviction rates of offenders; the impact of collaboration between police and communities they serve; and engaging with the public to change negative views of Indigenous peoples.
Several factors influenced how our strategy was chosen, most notably, the costs of implementation, the stances of the political parties, and alignment with the Inquiry. Cost is a potential barrier given that the country is facing an economic downturn, but, positively, Parliament’s leading political parties and prominent stakeholders such as the RCMP and the Native Women’s Association of Canada are favourable to acting on the Inquiry’s recommendations. Having these supporters is crucial in promoting the rights of Indigenous women and girls.
Based on our research, we explored three policy options — a public education campaign, strengthened data collection, and independent national police oversight. We chose data collection because it is foundational to effective public policy, uncontroversial, and may have wide-ranging effects (i.e. one set of data can produce many actionable insights).
It is our hope that this work honours the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The legacy of land dispossession, violence, and cultural erasure is critical to understanding the plight of Indigenous women and girls. Consigned to reserves with inadequate resources, violence from state authorities, and schooling designed to “take the Indian out of the child,” Indigenous peoples have faced social, economic, and cultural strife. Such problems are compounded when the lens of gender is applied. Often obscured in mainstream discourses on Indigenous justice, women and girls bear the brunt of this pain in domestic and psychological violence, sexual assault, and neglect, among other injustices.
In Canada, statistics show that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other women in Canada.” As well, “between 2001 and 2015, homicide rates for Indigenous women were nearly six times higher than for non-Indigenous women. Based on the information released by CBC News via The Sovereign Bodies Institute, there were 1724 confirmed MMIWG cases in Canada in the 1900s, of which more than 75% occurred after 1980. It also reported the highest numbers of MMIWG cases between 2015 and 2019: 93 in Alberta, 65 in Ontario, 61 in Saskatchewan, 56 in Manitoba, and 38 in British Columbia.
In this context, the national inquiry is all the more salient. Experiences that were long silenced have been moved to the foreground. The final report, completed June 3, 2019, is an investigation of violence against Inuit, Métis and First Nations women and girls in Canada, upon which actionable recommendations were put forward. Rights to health, culture, security and justice were given special prominence, and 231 calls to action were proffered.
The Indigenous community and advocacy groups have come a long way. Activists have fought arduously to bring attention to the issues that have plagued them for generations. A background on major reports fleshes out how the justice movement gained momentum in the past two decades. In Dec 2002, as the first official document in this regard, the Native Women’s Association of Canada released the “Violations of Indigenous Human Rights” report in which the significance of missing aboriginal women and unresolved murders was mentioned by referring to approximately 500 such cases over the past 15 years. It was followed by another report from Amnesty International in October 2004 named “No More Stolen Sisters,” which was a call to action against the MMIWG issue. It discussed the main reasons for this crisis, including racism, disparities in satisfying their rights, removing children from families and communities, the number of victims of violence and abuse in prisons, and insufficient police support in missing girls cases. The next key report was the “Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendation Report” in 2006, which addressed the recommendations for victim prevention, emergency planning and team response, victim family counseling, and support, and community development and support.
Other reports have been released during the past few years by different organizations and communities such as Assembly of First Nations, Human Rights Watch, etc. These reports pursued the common goal of convincing the Government of Canada to take proper action with a sense of urgency as lives are on the line. Among all documents, the one released by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is of the most importance. There has been much criticism levied against the police due to differences in handling Indigenous and non-Indigenous cases. Consequently, the RCMP created a report in 2014, suggesting next steps in enhancing efforts on unresolved cases, focusing prevention efforts, increasing public awareness, and strengthening their data. Once the final document of national inquiry was introduced by the federal government in June 2019, the RCMP promised to review the final report. On June 3rd, 2020 which was marked as the first anniversary of this contribution, RCMP confirmed the steps they have taken since last year to better handle this issue. Their commitment includes attracting Indigenous applicants, delivering new training, enhancing the investigation process, contributing and consulting with Indigenous leaders. However, all these actions only matter if they can be a practical help to reduce the rate of missing and murdered cases among Indigenous female communities.
Based on the preliminary findings of the Inquiry, the Government of Canada has acted in several ways. It has provided $21.3 million to bolster the Inquiry’s health supports, extended the timeframe for Family Information Liaison Units and funding for community-based organizations to support families until March 2020, and established a fund to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and Two-Spirit People, among other initiatives.
A government strategy based on the action plan was slated for release in June 2020, a year after the presentation of the Inquiry. However, delays have pushed the strategy back, most recently, the threat of COVID-19. It is our contention that COVID-19 should not push the inquiry back but should propel us forward as the struggles of Indigenous women and girls are exacerbated by the pandemic. A survey of more than 250 Indigenous women found one in five reporting they’ve been a victim of physical or psychological violence over the past three months. Recognizing the need, the federal government committed funding to build twelve new shelters. Activists, on the other hand, are urging for more funding, more existing shelters and culturally appropriate spaces for women fleeing violence. Adding to the COVID-fueled complexity, calls to stay at home can also prove problematic as the home, rather than being a refuge from violence, is where such violence takes place – often from an intimate partner. As well, many low-income people can not afford to stay indoors as low-wage work usually involves being physically present at the workplace.
In sum, COVID-19 should not slow down efforts to achieve justice for Indigenous women and girls. The research accomplished provides concrete courses of action for both redress and progress. COVID-19, indeed, does heighten the challenge but such a hurdle can be overcome with sobriety about past injustice and willingness to fight for equality.
Indigenous reconciliation has become a pressing concern for several nations with colonial histories. As these countries have come to grips with the atrocities committed against Indigenous populations, calls for justice have led to diverse approaches in addressing inequality and injustice. In this section, we will examine the actions of three nations to see if their methods hold promise for Canada’s future attempts in procuring justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
In our analysis, we have decided to investigate actions taken by the United States, Australia and New Zealand. All are former British colonies sharing similar legal and political structures, rendering it easier to conduct an in-depth, comparative analysis. Additionally, each nation had Indigenous peoples living on the land upon the settlers’ arrival, including the North American Indian, Māori, and Torres Strait Islander populations.
Before colonization, women held an esteemed role in indigenous society. Beyond the functions of preparing meals and rearing children, in certain societies like the Chocaw, women participated in politics, fought alongside men in war, could determine the fate of captives and represented the community in encounters with outsiders.” In fact, so revered was their role that “available evidence indicates that violence against women was rare and, when it occurred, was often severely punished.” With the arrival of European settlers starting in the late 1400s, these values were turned on their head, resulting in the subjugation experienced today.
Examples of injustice towards American Indigenous peoples are numerous. Land dispossession, extermination, the impact of residential schools, rape as a weapon of conquest, and non-respect of treaties demonstrate the magnitude of harm faced. These events did not have gender-neutral consequences. Indigeneous women suffered and continue to suffer a disproportionate degree of harm. Even today, violence against Indigenous women tends to be more serious than violence against non-Indigenous women, with Indigenous women being more likely to sustain injuries and require medical care for this violence. Furthermore, a National Institute of Justice analysis of death certificates indicated that, on some reservations, Indigenous women were murdered at more than 10 times the national average.
Due in large part to advocacy efforts, legislation came into force seeking to protect and advance the rights of Indigenous women. The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (TOLA) sought “to address crime in tribal communities and places a strong emphasis on decreasing violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.” In practice, the act “authorized new guidelines for handling sexual assault and domestic violence crimes… to boosting conviction rates through better evidence collection, to providing better and more comprehensive services to victims.” The TOLA has had some success in increasing prosecutions. The New York Times reports that U.S. attorneys’ prosecution rate of Indian cases referred to them increased from 63 percent in 2011 to 69 percent in 2012. However, a significant degree of cases are still dismissed due to lack of evidence. Furthermore, the one-year maximum sentence on tribal lands was only marginally increased to three years — this does not grant enough discretion to hand down longer sentences for more heinous crimes.
The TOLA was reinforced by the Violence Against Women Reauthorized Act of 2013 VAWA) which targeted the restoration of tribal jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of domestic violence and dating violence. One mark of success was that the implementing tribes reported 143 arrests of 128 non-Indian abusers. These arrests ultimately led to 74 convictions between 2013 and 2018. Although non-Natives can now be prosecuted on Native lands, cases of domestic and dating violence can be pursued but not those of stranger and acquaintance violence. This omission is significant as many instances of sexual assault and rape occur outside of formal relationships.
Lessons learned: Data collection is essential to boosting conviction rates; tribal authorities should have the power to impose sentences fitting the crime committed and to try non-natives on Native land; police should collaborate with Indigenous women to avoid missteps such as the inability to prosecute rape outside of formal romantic relationships.
The main goal of reconciliation in Australia, similar to other countries with colonial histories, has been to apply policies in order to remove the social and economic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Reconciliation was formalized into government policy in 1991 when the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established under the Aboriginal Reconciliation Act. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation proposed that the origins of this conflict between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can be traced to community attitudes. In essence, education is believed to be a more promising solution instead of justice. This means that besides providing justice and equity, the reconciliation process is based on recognising a united Australia by appreciating Indigenous cultures and achievements.
In the history of Australia’s reconciliation, two government initiatives in the last two decades have been noteworthy. The first event took place in 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to the Stolen Generations, Indigenous children separated from their parents by way of the residential school system. To this end, the Council of Australian Government made a commitment of $4.6 billion towards Closing the Gap, a government strategy in which all Australian states committed to reducing the disadvantage among Indigenous communities in various fields including life expectancy measurements, rate of child mortality, early childhood education accessibility, education, and employment opportunities. The initial time frame of this strategy was 25 years. In order to measure the strategy’s success, the government provides annual progress reports. The latest report indicates progress on some targets but not all of them. A summary of the results from the latest report are shown in appendix I.
The second event is the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017, which was provided at a traditional ceremony at Uluru – the symbolic heart of Aboriginal people of Australia. This statement is a document delivered by more than 250 Australian Aboriginal delegates in which they asked for recognition and support for their sovereignty. In addition, the social hardships faced by the Indigenous community were mentioned. The main difference between this statement and previous similar documents by Aboriginal people, was the fact that previous documents were addressed to the Parliament of Australia, while this statement was addressed to the Australian public. Some elements mentioned in the statement include: acknowledging the sovereignty of Aboriginal people, reforming the constitution to enable the Aboriginal people to manage their affairs, confronting the truths about past injustice towards Aboriginal people to inform the public and aid in the reconciliation process, and establishing a voice in Parliament to speak for Aboriginals and to advocate for their interests.
A July 2020 analysis sheds light on the unsatisfying outcomes of the Closing the Gap framework, as a function of Australia’s journey of reconciliation more broadly. This analysis has a thoughtful point, highlighting that the main problem could be traced to a lack of understanding towards the Indigenous community’s problems. In this case, their disadvantages were defined by limited cultural terms, the Indigenous lifestyle drift (for example, a study on life expectancy discusses the biomedical and social aspects which are rooted in western approaches. However, the factors such as connection to family and country that are identical to aboriginal community are dismissed in considerations), and a deficit-based approach (an approach that tends to concentrate mainly on needs and problems).
Lessons Learned: An asset-based approach (an approach that emphasizes mainly on strengths, potentials and skills) and more engagement with the Indigenous community’s culture and aspirations could be a door to more effective policies.
For the most part,the Aboriginal people of New Zealand and the government have managed their relationship by way of treaty. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by representatives of British Crown and over 500 Maori leaders. This agreement, recognized as the foundation document of New Zealand, has been mainly focused on sovereignty and bi-culturalism in New Zealand. The four key concepts of this Treaty include: empowering the Maori community to organize their affairs, protecting their culture and resources; the government’s responsibility to act fairly towards the Maori; the government’s responsibility to address grievances; and equality for all Maori and non-Maori people in New Zealand under the law. However, the fact that this document was signed in both English and Maori has resulted in many discrepancies and challenges since.
As mentioned above, despite this agreement, the government’s initiatives have had negative impacts and have led to the loss of Maori power and resources. As a result, reconciliation processes began around 30 years ago to address this concern. In general, this reconciliation entails three main procedures: the Treaty of Waitangi settlement, Office of the Race Relations Conciliator, and education platforms for the public.
As part of the Treaty settlement, in 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was established by the Government of New Zealand in order to address grievances. A special feature of the Tribunal was its makeup of both Maori and non-Maori members. For each claim submitted to the commission, the members examine the case and make recommendations. If it turns out that the Crown breached the Treaty, the commission will order the Crown to compensate the Maori or make recommendations to prevent such a situation in the future. Over the years, claims reported to the commission have been of various kinds. However, until recent years, the majority of them have been focused on the concerns regarding the Aboriginals’ sense of being alienated from the land and natural resources. Overall, Maori communities have found benefit in this process. They believe this gives them the chance to tell their stories, and provides them with a safe and fair environment to address their grievances. It also has an educative impact on society, while empowering Maori to share more about their history. In addition, by changing the tribunal’s role and approach over the years, it keeps the Crown honest in managing the Treaty relationship by shifting the focus from compensating to refreshing and maintaining the ongoing relationship.
The Office of the Race Relations Conciliator, established under the Race Relations Act 1971, is the main resource for releasing reports to the public. This office is aimed at improving race relations in society. Over the years, the office has got involved in multiple complaints that have attracted national publicity such as the 1979 He Taua event.
New Zealand has also tried to honor and restore the relationship with the Maori by using the most influential educational platform — the media. This includes programming focused on Maori people and their language. In addition, the public education system also provides teaching material about Maori communities, their culture, and the Waitangi Treaty.
Lessons Learned: Due to New Zealand’s progress in the reconciliation process, there are many commentaries about lessons that can be applied to countries with similar challenges. One of the most important lessons is for governments and Indigenous communities to have a comprehensive discussion before launching any initiatives to address grievances. This can be key to ensuring that fair action is taken, as both parties would have had a chance to clarify concerns from their point of view. Also, the reconciliation effort in NZ shows the importance of educating the public about Indigenous history and culture to promote biculturalism. In general, it can be learned from New Zealand that recognition of Indigenous communities, their language, and their rights shouldn’t be just a symbolic addition. It should be done through constitutional and legislative reforms by having negotiations between both parties.
Conclusion of Jurisdictional Scan
Our analysis of the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand has several interwoven themes:
First, the theme of collaboration with Indigenous groups is prominent, especially in terms of understanding their culture and concerns.
Second, empowerment also appears in supplying resources for communities to pursue justice and creating concrete structures to manage the nation-to-nation relationship.
Third, Indigenous justice reaches further than Crown relations — the education of the public is crucial in fostering empathy and change.
A few factors may influence how the final strategy will be delivered. First, the costs associated with implementation will factor in how policy is put forward. The federal government has shelled out $174 billion to stem the tide of unemployment and lost revenue due to COVID-19. The implementation of 231 calls to justice — recommendations highlighted in the National Inquiry that would protect the rights of Indigenous women and girls — would require long-term, sustainable funding and create resistance to big spending on other priorities.
Second, significant legal changes created by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) implementation may be untenable to proponents of resource extraction. Canada remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels and minerals for economic growth, and the desire to cultivate these resources often comes in conflict with indigenous rights. Arguably, the most significant barrier to making UNDRIP law is Article 32 which maintains that Indigenous groups should have free, prior and informed consent before “the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources.” This tension between economic opportunity and environmental sustainability will be critical in formulating our strategy.
Third, we aim to pursue alignment with the National Inquiry’s recommendations. The heart of this strategy is obtaining justice and equality for indigenous women and girls, and this can not be done successfully without basing decisions on their needs. For example, prominent demands include cultural protections, funding and training for Indigenous police, the creation of a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson, and public education on the over-sexualization of Indigenous women, among others.
Fourth, COVID-19 will affect how the strategy is brought forward. The virus is quickly changing society leaving many homebound and with less income. As a result, our approach will have a greater focus on domestic violence, shelter needs, and healthcare funding on reserves.
Fifth, the stances of the federal political parties are noteworthy. The Liberals, NDP and Green Party all plan to implement “the calls for justice from the MMIWG inquiry’s final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and the UNDRIP.” Conservatives differ in offering a National Action Plan, but make no explicit commitment on the inquiry’s calls to justice and they refuse to adopt the UNDRIP. The Bloc Quebecois has little official policy on Indigenous rights, but aims to implement UNDRIP. As the Liberals, NDP and Green Party are keen on taking action in line with the National Inquiry’s findings, this is favourable to us because they hold weight in Parliament and their view on the issue is in line with ours.
The delay in implementing the MMIWG recommendation is the most salient timing concern in delivering the final strategy. The federal government has already missed the promised June 1, 2020 delivery date for the National Action Plan. The proposed plan would have created a framework for the calls to justice to be put into action. The delay is seen by some as a cause for mistrust, which has led to the perception that previous work on reconciliation is hollow. The implication being that our strategy must have achievable deadlines and we must hold ourselves to completing the work within our set period to maintain indigenous support. Further, while COVID mitigation is postponing plans, insecurity has been increasing. Lorraine Whitman of the Native Women Association of Canada lamented that systematic overcrowding, food insecurity, lack of clean water and inadequate health services and infrastructure have been exacerbated by the virus. Therefore, we must balance achievable deadlines with decisive action, considering the magnitude of the problem.
‘No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.’ – Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Contrary to the previous conservative government, who did not consider this crisis to be the result of systemic discrimination and had rejected calls for justice, the Trudeau government has officially made a commitment to set up the national inquiry and adopt the UNDRIP. However, despite the government’s promises and efforts to address the past years of inaction through development and recognition of indigenous rights, indigenous people still experience systemic injustice, racism, denial of their rights and cultural genocide. Indigenous people believe that the efforts made on conducting the national inquiry have led to little to no change, and addressing the need for the action plan should be a priority in reconciliation efforts.
As one of the key components of improving community safety, RCMP has been increasingly modifying their investigative standards and the quality of their policing services in order to reduce injustice among indigenous communities. Although the RCMP has supported reconciliation efforts to some extent and helped with building the relationship between Canadian society and indigenous people, Indigenous groups are still skeptical toward the RCMP’s overtures and are recommending that they undergo anti-racism and anti-bias training, with others calling for defunding or abolishing police.
In addition, influential organizations including NGOs (e.g. Native Women Association of Canada) are mainly supportive of the reconciliation process by making efforts to help the world understand and respect the culture and diversity of indigenous communities and women. This is a good sign that they will be one of the supportive stakeholders toward our recommendations in this project. Depending on the size of the organizations, and how they are invested, their support can be different toward the reconciliation efforts. logically, the bigger organizations with more financial support can be so effective on the degree to which the reconciliation efforts will succeed by involving their resources.
The Canadian public has been reluctant in supporting reconciliation according to a November 2019 study recording seventy-eight interviews with different communities. The roots of this reluctance toward the reconciliation movement can be traced back to the unwillingness to admit the necessity of political, legal, and economic reforms, as these kinds of reforms could endanger the existing privileges faced by non-indigenous people in society. This reluctance reduces the likelihood of success significantly as the government concerns itself with its polling numbers and may be unwilling to go against public opinion. Additionally, the education of the public on indigeonous issues presupposes a receptive public — if Canadians are not willing to listen to indigenous voices, then this may be a big blow to our strategy’s effectiveness.
In conclusion, having the support of stakeholders and influential organizations has a huge impact on moving the reconciliation process forward. By having the families, survivors, and partners involved, feedback on the effectiveness of current policies can be provided which can lead to having better outcomes. Moreover, increasing awareness is a critical factor that can be greatly increased through stakeholder support. Educating non-indigenous people about the difficulties and challenges faced by indigenous women and girls can be used to spur them on to advance systemic change.
It is worth emphasizing that the support of each group of stakeholders would lead to different effects at different levels. The government can be considered as the most important part playing a role in the reconciliation process acting as the main source of financial support and the policy changes.
There are a few risks involved in the reconciliation efforts that need to be considered in carrying out the proper strategies.
First, the most common point about the reconciliation process among countries with similar issues is the fact that this is a long process. This factor can put the indigenous community at the risk of experiencing more social and political problems due to the nature of the MMIWG crisis, if justice is delayed. Therefore, it is essential that policymakers consider the most optimal options and act decisively to make these plans a reality in a timely manner.
Second, Canada’s demand for natural resources also poses a risk to the respect of Indigenous land claims. According to Amnesty International, “the vast majority of resource development projects in Canada will affect the lands and waters that are vital to First Nations, Meits and Inuit people. Yet, an independent, impartial assessment of such projects rarely takes place, and if it does, Indigenous peoples are often not adequately involved in shaping them. Mitigation would involve holding the government to its promise of a move to clean energy and working with clean tech companies, conservation groups, indigenous groups, and other supportive actors to advance a green economy. Accountability can be promoted through the proposed Canadian Climate Accountability Act, which seeks to put legal force behind promises of climate action. The Act stands on the pillars of legislated GHG emissions targets, national and sub-national carbon budgets, impact reports on the effects of climate change, an iterative planning and reporting system, and an arms-length committee of climate change experts.
Third risk is the possibility that the government’s commitment to the issue may waver due to the cost involved —the costs of reconciliation efforts including the $16.5 billion over seven years starting with fiscal year 2016-2017 as the first-level expenditures plus the $5.7 billion as the second-level costs pertaining to compensation for the historical injustice including various projects and claims would make an estimation of over $20 billion overall budgetary expenditures. It appears unlikely that the Liberal government would abandon reconciliation/MMIWG as it is a key part of their mandate. Yet, it could put forward a half-hearted effort and say that its goal has been accomplished. To this end, continued advocacy with local and international partners is essential to mitigate the effects of this risk. The influx of money to support Canadians during COVID is not necessarily a sign that the government is now cash-strapped, but rather that it is able to spend big on matters of importance. This message of ‘we spend on what we care about’ would be a strong rebuke if adequate funding is not given to the National Action Plan.
Establish an Independent National Oversight Policing Body
An independent national police oversight body would be a welcome step in promoting justice for Indigenous women and girls. The findings of the national inquiry highlighted how police often do not believe women when they report incidents, leading to little effort in investigating cases. A body composed of people who understand the Indigenous experience brings an empathetic ear to the table. In addition, Amnesty International notes that effective, independent civilian oversight is indispensable in an environment where there is mistrust between police and Indigenous communities. Police oversight suffers from the fact that overseers are often closely tied to the officers, weakening true accountability. An independent mechanism ensures police are not a law unto themselves, and Indigenous communities have an avenue for complaints and redress.
Weakness: Oversight bodies are not free from bias which may lead to unjust investigations; the twin aims of public confidence in police and maintaining the rule of law may sometimes be at odds.
Strengthen Data Collection
Rigorous data collection is essential to the production of evidence-based policy. However, the data currently on record for MMIWG cases is woefully inadequate. Only in 2014 did the RCMP record the first official statistics on missing and murdered Indigenous women, yet several flaws in the report are evident. The data does not include “victims whose Indigenous identity was not recorded by police, or those who died under suspicious circumstances.” It also fails in not differentiating between Inuit, Metis and First Nations. This is of importance as different Indigenous groups have varying circumstances that require tailored solutions. Additionally, Amnesty notes that the Mounties’ report has cases listed as suicides or accidents that are disputed by the families, and how the methodology used to determine women’s ethnicities remains unknown. As the families of the victims are not believed, this will be reflected in the data on suicides and accidents. Further, the unknown methodology surrounding how missing and girls are determined to be Indigenous casts doubt on the reliability of the current data. These facts suggest that vast improvements are needed.
Amnesty’s submission to the National Inquiry provides three concrete remedies:
- Undertake the collection and routine publication of data on health and social and economic conditions for Indigenous peoples disaggregated by Indigenous identity (Inuit, Métis, and First Nations), gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
- Establish a national protocol with rigorous training for law enforcement to ensure that the identity of Indigenous victims of violence, disaggregated by Indigenous identity (Métis, Inuit, and First Nations), sexual orientation, and gender identity, is regularly and accurately recorded and entered into national crime databases.
- Make disaggregated data on GBV [gender-based violence] regularly and publicly available, including by regularly reporting on violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people, including instances of murder, missing persons, and suspicious deaths.
Weakness: Difficulty in harmonizing data collection standards across all police departments in Canada; data collection is a long-term strategy which can not adequately address immediate issues such as increased domestic abuse, and reduced income to due COVID-19.
Start a Public Education Campaign
As the roots of the MMIWG crisis are in systematic racism and injustice, the public can play a productive role in addressing this issue. In this regard, educating non-indigenous people about the history of the injustice faced by indigenous communities and increasing the public awareness about the stories of missing and murdered women and girls can be great in facilitating the reconciliation process. Our approach aligns with the Inquiry by “supporting Indigenous people sharing their stories, from their perspectives, free of bias, discrimination and false assumptions, and in a trauma-informed and culturally sensitive way.” The diffusion of these stories can be effective in transforming perceptions of Indigenous people. Knowing the truth and severity of the crisis will make it hard for non-indigenous communities to deny the importance and necessity of systematic changes and policy reforms. Consequently, similar to other public statements, Canadians can put pressure on the government to take proper action and increase the accountability of the justice system.
In this respect, our recommendation is for provincial governments in collaboration with the federal government to provide the public with educational materials to raise awareness, including the true stories of the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada. In order to meet this requirement perfectly indigenous communities must be directly consulted.
The improvements that New Zealand has experienced in the reconciliation process over the years compared to similar countries like Australia and Canada, indicate the importance and effectiveness of this approach. They have used the media as one of the main educational platforms to increase the public awareness about indigenous issues and also established Maori television in 2004. In addition, the teaching materials regarding the Maori and the Waitangi Treaty have been incorporated into the public education systems.
Weakness: Difficulty in measuring effectiveness – it would be difficult to discern whether the changes in Indigenous perception resulted from the campaign or another factor.
Strategic Policy Recommended Policy Option: Data Collection
Alongside the above reasons for a better data strategy to the MMIWG issue, the following highlights why data collection is our chosen option as a starting point:
First, advancing stronger data collection is relatively uncontroversial and likely to gain support from all sectors and stakeholders. This is in contrast to increased oversight which may bring backlash from police.
Second, data collection is foundational in measuring the effectiveness of policy interventions and assessing the magnitude of MMIWG. If it is foundational to policy it must take precedence. Further, the effectiveness of better data is more easily measured than that of a public education campaign.
Third, data promotes benefits across many diverse issues. Where oversight aims narrowly at police accountability and public confidence, and a variety of campaigns are necessary to sufficiently tackle a variety of issues, one set of data may produce insights for a wide range of topics.
Questions Left for Further Research
1) How can Canadians be effective in holding the government accountable to its promises on MMIWG?
“I think we have a long way to go, but racism is socially constructed so we completely have the capacity to deconstruct it. So, if we talk about it, become more aware of how it operates and how it’s held within us, and how we then hold it in our groups and institutions and government, we can break it down and see even better change.” – Jackie Hogue, a non-profit consultant
By increasing the public’s awareness of the MMIWG crisis, we can expect both non-indigenous and indigenous participation in reconciliation long-term. However, it is necessary to study the reasons for the Canadian public’s reluctance to change (e.g. if they believe that policy reforms can endanger their own privileges). The importance of building relationships with non-indigenous has been discussed several times by indigenous individuals. For example, a two-spirit Anishinaabe community advocate from Sagkeeng First Nation, Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie as part of her talk about this topic mentioned “It can’t be on the hands of Indigenous Peoples to do all that work. We Indigenous people shouldn’t be the only ones demanding action. The responsibility is on your part as well”. Also, she mentioned “”That’s the only way for us to really change. That’s the only way for us to have system change, is when everyone’s involved.”
2) What are the effects of different budgeting for policing in indigenous communities and non-indigenous ones?
Although people are asking to defund police, indigenous police need more resources and funding. Terry Armstrong, the former chief of police for Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) in Ontario, who has been engaged in prolonged battles with both provincial and federal governments over funding for NAPS once said “We had many communities that, from day to day, had no police, [which is] a basic human right, in my opinion”. As he said this is a basic human right and also it is a really critical issue when it comes to MMIWG crisis.This shows the need for systemic change. Therefore, it is imperative to study the necessity of sufficient policing resources in addressing this topic.
3) Discussion on the need for an independent ombudsman and tribunal for indigenous people to address their individual complaints.
The seventh recommendation on the MMIWG national inquiry, which was to establish an Ombudsman and tribunal independent from government, indicates the necessity of studying the effectiveness of existing human rights commissions and institutions. As referred to in the jurisdictional scan of New Zealand, having a responsive and productive organization to respond to indigenous claims and disputes could be a great facilitator in the reconciliation process.
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Are expectations met?
Mortality rate of children
Halve the mortality rate of children under 5 years old by 2018
In 2018, the mortality rate for Indigenous children was 141 while for non-Indigenous was 67 per 100,000.
No. The gap has grown wider as the drop in mortality rate for non-Indigenous has outpaced that of their Indigenous counterparts.
Access to early childhood education
95% of all Indigenous four-year-old children are enrolled in early childhood education services by 2025
In 2018, 86.4% of Indigenous four-year-olds compared to 91.3% of non-Indigenous were enrolled in early childhood education services.
On track. Between 2016 and 2018 the numbers were increased by almost 10% for Indigenous children.
School attendance rate
Removing the gap of school attendance rates of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students within a five-year period by 2018
School attendance rate for Indigenous students has remained lower than non-Indigenous ones. In 2019 the rates are 82% and 92%, accordingly.
No. The gap is wider when it comes to secondary school students. For instance, in 2019 the gap was 9% for primary school students while 17% for secondary students.
Literacy and numeracy
Halve the gap in writing, reading and numeracy for Indigenous children within a 10-year period by 2018
By 2018, the number of Indigenous children who are at or above national minimum standards in all school years has improved by 3%-11%.
No. Despite these improvements there are still Indigenous students who remain below the reading and numeracy national minimum standards.
Halve the gap in employment rates of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by 2018.
In 2018, the employment rate for Indigenous people was 49% while it was 75% for non-Indigenous.
No. Within the 10-year period of 2008-2018, the employment rate for Indigenous people increased by 0.9% and for non-Indigenous people fell by 0.4%. The gap is virtually identical.
Remove the gap of life expectancy by 2031.
Within the period of 2006-2018, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous age-standardized mortality rate increased by 10%.
Not on track. So far the gap hasn’t been narrowed.