Deaths of indigenous women a Canadian genocide, leaked report says – BBC News

Deaths of indigenous women \a Canadian genocide\, leaked report says - BBC News
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.

It says that during the course of the inquiry, policing representatives acknowledged the “historic and ongoing harms” that continue to affect First Nations, Metis and Inuit families, as well as the need to make changes to how non-Indigenous and Indigenous police work to protect safety.

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

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…

“You can’t hear the stories, you can’t sit with them in ceremony without just knowing we have to prevent this,” Bennett said. “This is too much hurt and the patterns were there for a long time. We just want to thank the people that started pushing.”

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.

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.

“Thousands of women’s 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,” the report says.

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.

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.

MMIWG report: Relatives, friends have cautious hope for meaningful change

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.

OTTAWA — The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is calling for considerable legal reforms, including that police services establish standardized protocols to ensure all cases are thoroughly investigated.

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.

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

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.

Monday’s formal release of the commission’s findings will indeed be a highly emotional moment for victims’ families, survivors and advocacy organizations, who called for years for an inquiry to be conducted.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

National inquiry deems murders and disappearances of indigenous women in Canada a genocide

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.

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

"The report talks about the atrocities and it talks about genocide, which is very real, but we can't forget that all the statistics is somebody's daughter, somebody's child, somebody's cousin, somebody's friend," she said.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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."

"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.

"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."

"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.

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.

Judy Wilson, Chief of the Neskonlith and Union of BC Indian Chief's Executive Member, said she hopes the report will lead to immediate action. 

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.

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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.

The report, which was prepared over the course of 40 years, is long-awaited in the country, which is home to 1.6 million people with First Nations heritage. According to Robyn Bourgeois, a campaigner for the issue who talked to the BBC, the report was essentially made possible because “indigenous women have been on the ground making noise about this”.

"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 document detailed disagreements over what constituted genocide, summing up the general stance: “The national inquirys findings support characterizing these acts, including violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] 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 inquiry focused on the systemic causes of violence against indigenous women as well as on prevention, with the issue rising to especial prominence after a much covered case from 2014: the murder of a First Nations teenager, Tina Fontain.

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 leaked inquiry, due to be officially released on Monday, has been conducted over the past 40 years and offers worrisome statistics on violence against women from Canadas First Nations population (indigenous people with pre-Columbian ancestry) since 1980.

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.

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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.

The report suggests that about 1,200 aboriginal women had been murdered or gone missing in Canada since 1980, with some activists cited as stating that the number could be much higher. 

"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.

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"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."

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.

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

“I need to go beyond me and my sister, and think about all the young women coming forward, because we still see stories about what it’s like to be a young native woman,” Davis said recently. “I think that for me is the hope (for the recommendations) — that our young women don’t feel scared because of the colour of their skin, that they are not a target.”

"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.

Lorelei Williams, whose cousin Tanya Holyk’s DNA was also found on Pickton’s farm and whose aunt Belinda Williams disappeared in the 1970s, hopes that whatever the recommendations say, they will be embraced immediately by officials. The B.C. government, she said, was slow to respond to recommendations by the provincial inquiry into missing women run by former Justice Wally Oppal.

"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 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."

“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 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."

She also recounted the heart-breaking story of her friend Sarah de Vries, noting they used to “spot” for each other to ensure they weren’t picked up by bad dates. But then Julian broke her hip and couldn’t watch out for her friend, who vanished in 1998 and whose DNA would later be found on the Port Coquitlam farm of serial killer Robert Pickton.

"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.

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 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.

Carol Davis would turn to drugs to mask her pain, but she always gave her son gifts and special outings whenever she could save a bit of money while working the streets of the Downtown Eastside, she said. No one has ever been charged in Carol Daviss death, and Lori Davis posts regular Tweets to speak her name so her sister will not be forgotten.

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

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.

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.

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 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 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.

Yellowback, 27, comes from Manto Sipi Cree Nation in northeastern Manitoba. Now a sociology student and community service worker in Winnipeg, she's been following the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls since it began 2½ years ago. 

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.

"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."

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

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.

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

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 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.

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

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.

"It's like a colonial genocide that is ongoing and this is something that has been happening for hundreds of years," she said.

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]