Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, announced new details concerning a highly-anticipated national inquiry into the disproportionate rate of murders and abductions of indigenous women in Canada.
The 5-person commission, headed by Marion Buller, the first indigenous female judge in British Columbia, will begin its investigation this September. The inquiry is expected to continue into 2018 and will reexamine over 1,000 cases.
Although the inquiry will not have authority to reopen any criminal cases, it seeks to expose systemic causes and underlying factors that make indigenous women and girls particularly vulnerable to violence. As many as 4,000 indigenous women have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada since 1980.
According to Bennett, the commissioners will examine the roles that “racism, sexism, and the sustained impact of colonialism” play in fueling violence against indigenous women. “The national inquiry is an important step on our journey of reconciliation with the indigenous people of Canada,” she concluded.
Research by the Native Women’s Association of Canada estimates nearly 4,000 indigenous women were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012. Statistics Canada found aboriginal women over the age of 15 are 3.5 times more likely to face violence and 5 times more likely to die a violent death than white women. And although indigenous women compose only 4 percent of Canada’s population, they represent nearly 1 in 4 homicide cases against women. Analysis of cases show that 15 percent of the indigenous women killed were murdered by strangers and an additional 13 percent were murdered by serial killers.
Testimony by families of murdered or missing indigenous women indicates that police often fail to appreciate the pervasiveness and severity of these crimes. Native communities have reported that police may treat a suspicious death as a suicide or death by natural causes, despite evidence to the contrary.
“We know that the inquiry cannot undo the injustices that indigenous peoples have suffered over decades, but we can review what’s happened in the past, reflect on our present circumstances, and chart a path moving forward,.” declared Joy Wilson-Raybould, current Justice Minister and former British Columbia regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the creation of a national inquiry into the murder and disappearance of thousands of indigenous women and girls in Canada a priority for his government. In December, following the release of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Trudeau also announced a commitment to investing in First Nations’ educations, funding for First Nations’ programs, and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was created as part of Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The Canadian government had a century-long practice of taking indigenous children away from their families and placing them in brutal, church-run residential schools in a campaign that only ended in 1996. Upon receiving the Commission’s report, Trudeau issued a statement on the need for Canada “to accept fully our responsibilities – and our failings – as a government and as a nation.” He continued, “We know what is needed is a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. We have a plan to move towards a nation-to-nation relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, cooperation and partnership, and we are already making it happen.”