Inquiry finds raced-based genocide of Indigenous people in Canada – The Globe and Mail

Inquiry finds \raced-based genocide\ of Indigenous people in Canada - The Globe and Mail
National inquiry calls murders and disappearances of Indigenous women a Canadian genocide
The four-member inquiry that was tasked with uncovering the systemic reasons for the disproportionate number of murders and disappearances of Indigenous women concludes that a genocide is taking place in Canada and a cultural paradigm shift is needed to end the violence.

The National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is preparing, after nearly three years of information gathering and analysis, to release its findings on Monday in a report called Reclaiming Power and Place. A copy of the 1,200-page document was leaked to a number of Canadian media outlets, including The Globe and Mail.

The final report of the $92-million inquiry, which was launched nearly two and a half years ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeaus government, is slated to be released to the public on June 3, but copies of it were leaked on Friday.

Inquiry deems missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada a genocide

Chief among its findings is that the violence being perpetrated against the First Nations, Inuit and Métis amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples…

The inquiry travelled across the country, conducting 24 public hearings that involved the testimony of more than 2,000 people. Commissioners heard of botched police investigations, systemic racism, indifference and incompetence.

Federal minister casts doubt on MMIW commissioners push for stiffer sentences for crimes against Indigenous women

And, says the inquiry, while the Canadian genocide targets all Indigenous peoples, Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual) people are particularly targeted.

Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions and actions detailed within the report, the summary said. As many witnesses expressed, this country is at war, and Indigenous women, girls…are under siege.

Bittersweet reaction to MMIWG inquiry deeming deaths and disappearances a genocide

The inquiry, which was called by the federal Liberal government after years of demands by Indigenous groups and others, was officially started in September 2016. Over the course of their investigation, the four commissioners received information from more than 2,380 people and heard the stories of 468 family members of victims and survivors.

The common thread of all the women and girls I talked to (is) every single time there was always a problem with police, some sort of feeling of being disregarded, disrespected, not believed, North told CTV News.

A Statistics Canada report of 2014 found that Indigenous women are six times more likely that non-Indigenous women to be the victim of a homicide.

Sheila North, the former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief who co-produced a documentary about this epidemic, said that she was almost a statistic herself when she moved from the reserve into the city.

And a report by the RCMP that was released the same year found 1,181 cases of policed-reported murdered or missing Indigenous women dating back to 1980.

The final report will go further, bringing tougher sentences against those who injure or kill Indigenous women and imposing more restrictive bail conditions on the alleged perpetrators.

No one knows an exact number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people in Canada, says the report. Thousands of womens deaths or disappearances have likely gone unrecorded over the decades, and many families likely did not feel ready or safe to share with the National Inquiry before our timelines required us to close registration.

In the end, the commissioners concluded that the murders and disappearances are the product of a Canadian society that has eroded the rights of indigenous women.

In 2017, the inquiry released an interim report calling for the creation of a national police force tasked with assessing or reopening cases and reviewing investigations.

The genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide of Indigenous populations, says the report.

The offices of the national inquiry and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett refused to comment on the early information.

As a result, say the commissioners, many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue.

Protesters take part in a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 3, 2013. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism within Canadian society, and from all levels of government and public institutions, ideologies and instruments of colonialism, racism, and misogyny, past and present, must be rejected, they say.

In an interview this week with The Globe and Mail, Marion Buller, the chief commissioner, said she believes the scrutiny of the international community will force Canadian governments – federal provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous – to direct their attention to the problem.

Final report calls tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women a Canadian genocide

But the report says that Canada has failed to meaningfully implement the international declarations and treaties that affect the rights of Indigenous women, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Canadian legal system fails to hold the state and legal actors accountable for their failure to meet domestic and international human rights and Indigenous rights obligations, say the commissioners.

Her cousin Tanya Holyk's DNA was found on the farm of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton. Her aunt, Belinda Williams, went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside more than 40 years ago.

Video: National inquiry calls murders, disappearances of Indigenous women a Canadian genocide

Leaked report calls indigenous womens deaths a Canadian genocide

In addition, they say in the report, the Canadian state has displaced Indigenous women from their traditional roles in governance and leadership and replaced their influence with patriarchal governance models.

The national inquiry into the ongoing tragedy, two-and-a-half years and $92 million in the making, culminated in a final report that was set to be released on Monday. CBC obtained a copy earlier.

All governments, in partnership with Indigenous people, should implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people that ensures equitable access to basic rights such as employment, housing, education, safety, and health care… says the report.

For many British Columbians, a new report deeming the deaths and disappearances of thousands of Indigenous women and girls a "Canadian genocide" could not come soon enough.

And all governments, it says, should direct resources to eliminate the social economic and political marginalization of Indigenous women.

"It's hard to find anyone that is not affected in some way or another — our family is most definitely affected with the murder of my young sister at the age of 21."

The inquiry makes 125 recommendations pertaining to human rights, culture, health, human security, justice, media, health service providers, the transportation and hospitality industries, police services, lawyers and law societies, educators, social workers, resource-development industries, the Correction Service of Canada, and Canadians in general.

"It's a vindication and I welcome this report. I'm glad that it has been completed, but definitely there's a lot of bittersweet feelings," Teegee said.

It calls on Canadians to denounce and speak out against the violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, to learn the true history of Indigenous peoples, and to hold all governments accountable to act on the inquirys calls for justice.

It took a long time to hear its first witness. Some of the families of missing and murdered women withdrew their support, citing a lack of communication and insufficient ceremonial protocols. Justice Buller herself said the inquiry was hampered by federal bureaucracy. And a two-year extension she requested from the government was denied.

"Our families have been fighting for this for so long and it's coming to an end," said Lorelei Williams, who testified at the national inquiry.

Video: MMIWG report recommends changes in the Criminal Code, calls on Canadians to take action

In addition, some of those who lost loved ones were disappointed in the limited scope of the government-prescribed mandate to uncover the systemic issues that cause Indigenous women and girls to become victims of crime.

Darlene Rose Okemaysim-Sicotte, whose cousin Shelley Napope went missing in the early 90s and who was part of a family advisory circle that provided advice to the inquiry, said the commissioners paid special attention to the fact that the families have lived [through] experiences of a failing system.

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.

She wants to see concrete change before the fall election. "We're dealing with it in every day of our lives," she said.

The 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, transgender, 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."

"Now, it's coming to an end but our women are still going missing and being murdered at a high rate."

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.

Williams, who founded the Butterflies in Spirit dance troupe to honour the victims, has been critical of the federal inquiry. She was one of nearly 60 relatives, advocates and Indigenous leaders from across Canada who signed an open letter in 2017 raising concerns that the inquiry “is in serious trouble” and that a “lack of communication is causing anxiety, frustration, confusion, and disappointment.

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.

“It took a lot of fight from our people to get this recognized in the first place: that our women are being targeted. And there are a lot of injustices that are happening to our women that are kind of normalized in this society,” said Parnell, a Langara College student in Aboriginal studies and a part-time worker at a Downtown Eastside justice reform organization.

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.

After victims’ families demanded a national inquiry for decades, the $92-million federal commission was struck three years ago. It was beset by delays and criticism, but its final report will be presented Monday, and a press release promises “it will inspire all Nations and Canadians to unite and build a safer Canada for Indigenous women.”

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 inquiry issued a statement today saying that it was "aware that an unauthorized document, purported to be the National Inquiry's final report" had been obtained by the media, but that it wouldn't comment on the reported findings.

"Out of respect for all those invested in the process, and most particularly the family members and survivors of violence who courageously shared their Truths over two years of public hearings and statement gatherings, the National Inquiry will proceed as planned to present its Final Report on Monday, June 3 at a solemn national ceremony to honour the missing and murdered," said the statement.

I really had to realize how to carry myself in this community, because it was scary knowing the statistics of the Indigenous women going missing, said Parnell. “That is kind of our quality of life. That is what we have to get used to and be mindful of every time we leave our homes, and every time we go to school.”

"We will not discuss specific findings or recommendations in advance of their official publication, and continue to encourage all Canadians to read the Final Report following its formal presentation to governments."

Julian, who will be at the report’s release in Gatineau on Monday as part of the inquiry’s family advisory circle, would also like to see a national holiday dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women, to “open the eyes of all Canadians” that this is a continuing issue that needs to be addressed.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett's office issued a statement saying the minister wouldn't comment on the report's findings.

"Out of respect for the independent National Inquiry and the families, we won't comment on the details of the final report before then," says the statement.

The CBC has reported that the final report is 1,200 page long with 230 recommendations, and that it concludes the disproportionate level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls was a “genocide” caused by “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies.”

"After decades of demanding a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, families are finally getting the answers they have been looking for."

The inquiry’s 15 community hearings, which gathered testimony from the relatives and survivors, began in Whitehorse in June 2017, went next to Smithers that September, and then travelled across the country before returning to B.C. for the final hearings in Vancouver in April 2018.

The Assembly of First Nations issued a statement saying National Chief Perry Bellegarde "has said many times that the treatment of First Nations in Canada is consistent with the definition of genocide based on the many assaults on First Nations people and culture."

The statement cited residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, forced sterilization and the "massive apprehensions" of Indigenous children by the child welfare system as examples of this "assault."

The inquiry's final report was obtained by CBC News on Friday, three days before its official release. It described the disappearance and murders of Indigenous women as the product of a "Canadian genocide" — a term Yellowback would broaden to encompass all of North America. 

"The violence and homicide against Indigenous women and girls is part of this pattern and governments need to work urgently with Indigenous people to stop it," said the statement.

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.

"It's crazy that it took $92 million and this commission's report for those same statements and those words to be verifiable, when our families and our mothers and our kookums were telling us, as young women growing up, to be careful."

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

When the 1,200-page report and its 230 recommendations are officially released on Monday, Yellowback hopes it will promote more awareness, especially in the educational system, where she would like to see all children learn about the issues.

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.

Although she hadn't yet read the full report on Friday, Yellowback said she expects it to confirm what people like her mother have known for decades — the threat of violence that hangs over Indigenous people on this continent.

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.

"There is a misogyny going on," she said. "It's a misogyny specifically tailored toward Indigenous women and girls."

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.

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

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

Ivana Yellowback still remembers the urgent message she received years ago from her mother, asking where she was and what she was doing.

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.

The inquiry's Forensic Document Review Project, which involved two teams probing police and institutional files, dissected two reports by the RCMP related to statistics on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, according to the report.

The panel took particular aim at a statistic that claimed Indigenous men were responsible for 70 per cent of the murders of Indigenous women and girls — a figure that was promoted by Stephen Harper-era Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt in 2014 and backed by the RCMP's own research.

The inquiry's forensic team said that data limitations in two reports completed by the RCMP in 2014 and 2015 on the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls made the figure "unreliable … (It) should not be considered as an accurate or complete statement of the perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women and girls."

While the report said there was an "overall willingness" on the part of municipal and regional police forces to cooperate with the inquiry, it was a different story with the RCMP.

"Most, if not all, of the police forces devoted extra resources and personnel to the task of complying with subpoenas," said the report. "By contrast, the RCMP demonstrated reluctance to provide … the information requested."

The report said the inquiry requested 298 case files from the RCMP through three subpoenas, but only received 107.

The inquiry and the RCMP are still battling in Federal Court over access to two files — one involving a decades-old missing persons case and another involving a homicide. A publication ban prevents publication of details in both cases.

The RCMP told the Federal Court it has now handed over 119 "investigative cases" to the inquiry.

The report said that the RCMP is responsible for policing about 40 per cent of the Indigenous population and 39 per cent of unsolved cases are within the Mounties' jurisdiction.

"The degree to which the RCMP, represented by the Department of Justice, resisted disclosure of the files sought … created a challenge to (the forensic review teams') ability to obtain and review the necessary documents," said the report.

"Many of the files received contained redactions that rendered some documents unintelligible."

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.

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him [email protected]