UN report urges Canada to protect indigenous women

Sam Odrowski

A recently published report from the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur of Violence Against Women has been welcomed by various Canadian Women’s Rights Groups.

It shows Canada has a long road ahead to create equality and protect the rights of indigenous females, who are three times more likely to be victims of violence than those who are non-indigenous.

“The Special Rapporteur’s report reminds us that State responses must acknowledge the depth, extent and gravity of the crisis,” said Dr. Amanda Dale, director of the Feminist Alliance For International Action (FAIFA).

“We are in what the UN has classified a ‘global pandemic’ of violence against women, and the aftermath of the classification of a national genocide against indigenous women,” she added.

“It will take bold and robust responses with investment commensurate with the State’s capacity, not piecemeal actions fueled by bake sales to turn the corner on this.”

Within the UN’s Special Rapporteur, Dubravka Šimonovic’s report, she makes several recommendations aimed at improving gender based violence in Canada.

Of those recommendations, chair of indigenous governance at Ryerson University, Dr. Pamela Palmater said externally reviewing law enforcement agencies is key.

“The U.N.’s Special Rapporteur acknowledged the high rate of sexualized violence by police officers and corrections officers against indigenous women and girls and she called for an independent and external review of police agencies in Canada and corrections officers to address these gross human rights violations,” she remarked.

“It’s one of the first UN reports for Canada to ever do that and she recommends that indigenous women be a part of that external review.”

“So that’s something that’s really a big gap in Canada and she honed in on it and said Canada really needs to focus on that,” Palmater added.

She said many women’s rights groups hoped the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women would deal with the internal stats of sexualized violence by law enforcement agencies but it was excluded from their terms of reference.

Despite making several submissions, it’s been impossible for Palmater or other women rights advocates to investigate the internal operations of police due to unions preventing them from accessing the information.

“They refuse to allow anyone to have that information and that’s why there’s a high degree of impunity,” she noted.

“Where did you ever see a police officer convicted for shooting unarmed native people or for all of the rapes that Human Rights Watch has documented in B.C against indigenous people . . . or the sexual assaults that happen in prisons that were documented?”

“There’s no appetite among politicians to hold police officers accountable and in that way, police officers and corrections officer hold far too much power in society,” Palmater added.

“We need to scale that back a bit and hold everyone accountable including doctors and nurses who have engaged in forced or coerced sterilization.”

While many Canadians think the sterilization of indigenous women is part of the country’s dark past, sterilizations without informed consent have been performed as recently as 2018.

And documented instances of sterilization by state actors are often associated with child welfare, Palmater noted.

“There’s litigation ongoing in Canada, and it’s not the first set of litigation either where women are claiming that they are still being forced or coerced to be sterilized if they want to get their children back from foster care, for example,” she explained.

Another recommendation made in Šimonovic’s report is for Canada to develop a National Action Plan that’s meant for indigenous women.

“Not just a generic women’s equality action plan but something that deals with the unique crisis of the grave human rights violations against indigenous women and girls,” Palmater said,

“One that mandates both federal and provincial governments to take urgent and immediate action to ensure that the human rights of indigenous women and girls is being met and also to ensure that they are entitled to reparations.”

Although, as Šimonovic underscores in her report, Canada has historically done a poor job complying with past reports findings and recommendations.

“Indigenous women and girls are still minimal priority when it comes to federal or provincial or even municipal politicians and so it’s really going to be up to indigenous women, ally feminist organizations and Canadians to push government,” Palmater charged.

She said genocide is an ongoing issue for indigenous people in Canada.

“You have exceptionally high rates of police-involved shooting deaths of indigenous people and just police-involved deaths of indigenous people generally,” Palmater noted. “The numbers are far higher than any other group in the country,”

“We’ve also got the part of genocide that is creating the conditions of life that are meant to destroy a group like indigenous people, in whole or in part,” she added.

The underfunded social programs and services like food, water, and housing also create the conditions of life in many First Nations that leads to premature deaths by up to 15 years, according to Palmater.

“So preventable deaths in First Nations and ill health is all caused by Canada’s policies,” she said.
Palmater also noted that preventing birth in a group through forced and coerced sterilizations is a form of genocide as well.

“Then you have the forceable transfer of the children of the group to another group, so that’s the gross overrepresentation of First Nations kids in foster care which is a growing epidemic,” she remarked.

“Canada recognized it was a human right’s crisis but hasn’t taken the steps required to end the apprehension and in fact many of the provinces are continuing with apprehension [through] things like Birth Alert.”

In Canada. close to 15,000–or over half–of the children under age 15 in foster care are indigenous, even though indigenous people only account for 7.7 percent of the country’s child population, according to Census data from 2016

“Indigenous women continue to experience high rates of children being removed from their care, a practice which began in the era or residential schools,” Šimonovic stated in her report.

Palmater said it isn’t just the system that’s failing indigenous people, it’s the legislators and people making decisions within the system that’s holding them back.

“When we talk about a system, it sounds like something separate, something non-human, but it’s actually a whole bunch of bureaucrats–thousands and thousands of bureaucrats and politicians making life and death decisions everyday and when it comes to native people they decide against them every time,” she charged.

Canada as a state is creating the genocide of indigenous people and not taking the steps required to end it, Palmater remarked.

“That’s probably the most important point out of all this because some people will say, ‘it’s because native people they lead high risk life styles . . .’ but it’s actually because of all of these policies that create homeless people, and put them in vulnerable situations that they wouldn’t be in otherwise that creates this genocide.”

The Special Rappourteur’s findings also show sex discrimination persists in the Indian Act which is not only illegal by Canadian law, but international human rights laws as well.

The act discriminates against indigenous women when they try to pass their status onto their descendants and violates Canada’s internal obligations.

“Getting rid of sex discrimination in the Indian Act, that should be a no-brainer in 2019,” Palmater remarked.

Other forms of discrimination the Special Rapporteur found indigenous women experience include inadequate social assistance and housing and lack of affordable public childcare.

Moving forward, Palmater said she’d like to see people held accountable for the “discriminatory” policies that have led to the marginalization of indigenous women and girls.

“These are crimes in Canadian law and international law and we don’t hold anybody accountable and we allow it to continue,” she charged.

“We need to hold these politicians to account and if they don’t then we should seek international resolution in terms of forcing them to account for genocide.”