National inquiry calls murders and disappearances of Indigenous women a ‘Canadian genocide’

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Rita Blind, right, sheds tears while embracing Viola Thomas at the final day of hearings at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Richmond, B.C., last year. The inquiry’s final report, obtained by CBC News ahead of its release next week, says violence experienced by thousands of Indigenous women and girls is part of a ‘Canadian genocide.’ (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
The thousands of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or disappeared across the country in recent decades are victims of a “Canadian genocide,” says the final report of the national inquiry created to probe the ongoing tragedy.

The inquiry’s final report, obtained by CBC News and verified by sources, concludes that a genocide driven by the disproportionate level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls occurred in Canada through “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies.”

“We do know that thousands of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) have been lost to the Canadian genocide to date,” said the report, titled Reclaiming Power and Place.

“The fact that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples are still here and that the population is growing should not discount the charge of genocide.”

The report states that “due to the gravity of this issue,” the inquiry is preparing a “supplementary report on the Canadian genocide of Indigenous peoples according to the legal definition of genocide,” which will be posted at a later date on the inquiry website.

Defining genocide

The inquiry’s report acknowledges that there are disagreements over what constitutes genocide and whether it could relate to Canada. The report cites research on genocide dating back to 1973, along with the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — which in 2015 released a report on Indian residential schools — and writings by Indigenous scholars as part of the evidence supporting its conclusions.

It also cites an opinion column published in 2013 in The Globe and Mail by former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine and Bernie Farber, the former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, arguing that Canada committed genocide against Indigenous peoples.

“Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report,” the report says. “The National Inquiry’s findings support characterizing these acts, including violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, as genocide.”

The report runs to over 1,200 pages and includes more than 230 recommendations. It’s being released at a ceremony Monday at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet ministers, Indigenous leaders and family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are expected to attend.

The report is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of work by the $92 million National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, which was beset by a number of setbacks throughout its operations, including the loss of a commissioner and two executive directors and a high staff turnover.

The inquiry originally was supposed to submit its final report by Nov. 1, 2018, and to wrap up by Dec. 31. The inquiry commissioners asked Ottawa in March 2018 for an additional $50 million and a 24-month extension. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett rejected the request and instead granted a six-month extension.

The faces of some of the Indigenous women and girls who have vanished or have been murdered in Canada in recent decades. (CBC News)

The inquiry has held 24 hearings and events to gather statements across Canada since 2017. Those events were attended by more than 2,380 Canadians, including family members of missing and murdered women and girls, survivors of violence, Indigenous knowledge keepers, experts and officials.

The report’s recommendations are divided into several categories aimed at governments, institutions and the Canadian public. The report also makes recommendations specific to Inuit, Metis and 2SLGBTQQIA.

The report urges the federal, provincial and territorial governments to develop an action plan to counter violence against Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA.

Official language status

It also calls on the federal and provincial governments to give Indigenous languages official status on par with French and English, and for Ottawa to create “an independent mechanism” to report on the implementation of the report’s recommendations before Parliament.

The recommendations include a call to change the Criminal Code to treat cases of homicides involving intimate partner violence as first-degree murder, and for a review of the use of the ‘Gladue principle’ in cases involving the deaths of Indigenous women and girls.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Gladue ruling says judges must take into consideration the historical and cultural context of Indigenous offenders — particularly the effect of factors such as residential schools or the child welfare system — when sentencing Indigenous offenders. Gladue principles are also part of the Criminal Code.

The report also calls on Canadians themselves to take action — to denounce violence and racism against Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA, learn the true history of the Indigenous experience in Canada and fully read the inquiry’s report.

How many have died?

Some estimates have suggested roughly 4,000 Indigenous women have been murdered or have disappeared over the past few decades.

The inquiry report said the true number may be impossible to establish.

“There is still not a complete understanding of the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” said the report.

The inquiry issued subpoenas to 28 police agencies across Canada seeking 479 files, but only obtained 174 due to time constraints, the age of the files, missing information or agencies refusing to turn over the documents, according to the report.

For immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. This is a national, toll-free 24/7 crisis call line providing support for anyone who requires emotional assistance related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling and community-based cultural services through Indigenous Services Canada.
Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Indigenous women and girls: advocates demand federal plan before October election, CBC News

Finland: Swedish-speaking Finnish women launch their own #metoo campaign, Yle News

Sweden: Report sheds light on Swedish minority’s historic mistreatment, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

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Jorge Barrera, CBC News

Jorge Barrera, CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

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