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MMIW inquiry drew from 98 earlier reports. The same problems and unrealized solutions echo through them all

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Women embrace during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019. Commission, inquiry, recommendations. Neglect, death, outrage. Lather, rinse, repeat. Since at least the 1907 Bryce Report , official publications about the crises in Indigenous […]


Women embrace during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019.

Commission, inquiry, recommendations. Neglect, death, outrage. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Since at least the 1907 Bryce Report, official publications about the crises in Indigenous health and welfare in Canada have been downplayed and often ignored wholesale.

Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, the author of that report more than a century ago, and at the time the federal Chief Medical Officer, waged a one-man campaign to expose the appalling death rates from tuberculosis in residential schools for Indigenous children. He advocated for reforms to ventilation and hygiene and argued the government was “within unpleasant nearness to the charge of manslaughter.” Bryce was forced into early retirement and the deputy Indian Affairs minister of the time, an ardent assimilationist, dismissed his concerns. That same deputy minister later conceded that half the children who passed through these schools “did not live to benefit from the education they had received.”

Since Bryce’s time, what feels like an infinite number of inquiries and commissions have followed on his heels. Like him, they have condemned official action and inaction towards Indigenous people in the harshest terms they could think of. And they have made recommendations. Endless recommendations. Recommendations to implement past recommendations.

In fact, the creation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was itself a recommendation made in the 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The final report of the MMIWG inquiry, delivered Monday, also makes recommendations, 231 in all. Some, like establishing a universal basic income and harsher sentencing for offenders who target Indigenous women, are bold and controversial — but it is striking how many others we’ve heard before.

According to Karine Duhamel, director of research at the inquiry, it drew from 98 previous reports that focused on violence against Indigenous women in Canada or touched on the issue. Some came from governments (parliamentary committees, provincial commissions of inquiry, coroners’ inquests and so on) but others were produced by Indigenous groups, academics and advocacy groups like Amnesty International.

In some important ways, this report is different than all those that came before. It’s the first truly national investigation Canada has ever had into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It was granted what it described as “the broadest mandate a Canadian public inquiry has ever received,” including powers to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify. It also investigated root causes of violence against Indigenous women across Canada, not just the actions of any particular agency or group.

However, as the National Post combed through about a dozen of these earlier reports this week, it was clear they had long since identified many recurring themes, with some recommendations made over and over again. This week, much of the attention has focused on the inquiry’s recommendations around policing and the judicial system. Several other fairly specific themes emerged from the previous reports, however — key among them, transportation, housing, and data collection.

canada aboriginal  2 MMIW inquiry drew from 98 earlier reports. The same problems and unrealized solutions echo through them all
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019.

Transportation

Recommendation 4.8 in the MMIWG inquiry’s final report calls on governments to plan and fund “safe and affordable transit and transportation services and infrastructure” in remote and rural communities. The reports say it needs to be safe, sufficient and readily available in towns, cities and First Nations across the country, and should take into account the lack of commercial transit available in many of these communities, with particular attention to fly-in, northern, and remote places.

Versions of this recommendation go back more than a decade in B.C., home to the Highway of Tears, a treacherous stretch of Highway 16 along which, depending on how you count, somewhere between 18 and 40 women have been murdered or gone missing since 1969. Most were Indigenous. A coalition of Indigenous groups responded by releasing a list of recommendations in 2006, including a proposal for a shuttle-bus service that would connect every community along the highway and “pick up every young woman they encounter walking or hitchhiking” on the way.

In 2012, Wally Oppal made a similar plea. Oppal, B.C.’s former attorney general, wrote the final report of the province’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, held in the wake of the case of serial killer Robert Pickton, who murdered dozens of women — many of them Indigenous — who were living in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. This week he expressed frustration with the lack of change, and the continued victimization of Indigenous women and girls.

His report urged the provincial government to immediately set up public transportation routes to connect northern communities along the Highway of Tears.

“People hitchhike to get their groceries done,” Oppal told the Post this week. “It’s so vast, and there’s no cell phone service in remote areas. You can go for miles and miles without seeing anybody.”

He noted that the B.C. government did recently roll out a plan for basic transit on Highway 16, including new bus routes, shelters, grants to help small communities buy vehicles and driver training.

But across the country, transportation continues to be a site of danger for Indigenous women and girls, the national inquiry’s report says. Many women shared that, “in their efforts to restore safety and escape violence or to seek a better life, they often encountered more violence,” including, “transportation that itself becomes a site for violence.”

Moments of transition in life are particularly dangerous. Many Inuit women described encountering violence in unfamiliar communities during the 1,000-km journey to the South.

The mother of Jarita Naistus, who was murdered in Lloydminster, Sask., in 2005, testified before the national inquiry that her daughter travelled 50 km each day from her home in Onion Lake to attend college in the city. One day she could not get a ride home, and stayed in a hotel for the night, where she was beaten and strangled to death.

Diane Redsky, the executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg, told the national inquiry that human traffickers lurk at airports and bus depots to target vulnerable Indigenous teenaged girls who are aging out of the child welfare system and striking out on their own with few or no resources.

elana papin  bonnie fowler  cynthia cardinal MMIW inquiry drew from 98 earlier reports. The same problems and unrealized solutions echo through them all
Elana Papin, Bonnie Fowler and Cynthia Cardinal, sisters of victim Georgina Papin, attend Robert Pickton’s 2007 trial at the New Westminster courthouse.

Housing

The desperate need for more and better quality housing in Indigenous communities, both on and off-reserve, is echoed in reports across the decades. The national inquiry this week called for “all governments to immediately commence the construction of new housing and the provision of repairs for existing housing to meet the housing needs of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people” that is “safe, appropriate to geographic and cultural needs, and available wherever they reside.”

The report draws a direct line between homelessness or poor housing and Indigenous women’s vulnerability to violence. A woman named Marlene J. testified to the inquiry that she was raped three to four times a week when she was struggling to find a safe place to live. “I was just trying to survive.… Because I was homeless they decided that they would take advantage of the situation,” she said.

The 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples also recommended a “major initiative to upgrade housing and community infrastructure.” In fact, all but one of the 11 reports the Post reviewed mentioned housing or homelessness. Additionally, the 2005 Kelowna Accord had a whole chapter on housing and how to fix it, which included a commitment to tracking progress toward a goal of “closing the gap between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians in housing conditions.” Both Amnesty International reports said Indigenous people’s core rights to housing were being violated, with 2009’s No More Stolen Sisters stating that inadequate and overcrowded housing was an especially big problem for women and children because they have nowhere to escape violence at home.

Oppal’s report listed “grossly inadequate housing” as the first factor leaving Indigenous women vulnerable to violence. He reiterated, this year, his dismay at the continued prevalence of wretched housing in “beautiful” Vancouver’s poor neighbourhoods, even as the city has shown a willingness to make investments—but mostly in things that benefit the middle class, like bike lanes (which he praised, to be clear).

Another theme that comes up again and again in the MMIWG report and others is the need for “low-barrier” shelters for women fleeing violence and their children and teenagers, regardless of gender. In practice, this means shelters need to be open all the time and adopt a “wet shelter” model that prioritizes harm reduction by allowing women and youth with active substance abuse issues to take shelter, even if they’re still using. This is supposed to protect the people who are the most vulnerable to violence and human trafficking from seeking shelter with those who wish them harm.

canada aboriginal .1 MMIW inquiry drew from 98 earlier reports. The same problems and unrealized solutions echo through them all
A woman holds a sign during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019.

Data

Report authors since Bryce’s time have used numbers to make their case — but have consistently called for the collection of more data to help them better understand the dangers facing Indigenous women and girls.

The need for research and more data, better data, and data that is “disaggregated,” or broken down by gender and ethnicity, is repeated throughout the national inquiry’s report. This includes data on Indigenous women and girls who go missing, as part of an improved national database.

It also calls for specific data on Indigenous, Métis and Inuit women, girls and LGBTQ people, as well as on children in care, people who are incarcerated, and violence against women. An Amnesty International report 10 years earlier called for the collection of a largely identical dataset to address “significant” statistical gaps, with special attention to violence data and data on social well-being.

The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples included an extensive section on collecting data on Indigenous people above and beyond the regular post-census Aboriginal Peoples Survey. It’s not clear whether any such recommendation was ever implemented.

While we know, thanks to Statistics Canada, that Indigenous people are overrepresented as victims and offenders in the criminal justice system, a 2001 report on Indigenous justice in Manitoba called for the collection of a laundry list of indicators from the judicial system, including data about the time that elapses between charge and trial. That information is now collected across the country.

Oppal also spoke about the need for more information — especially, in high-needs areas like the Downtown Eastside, about service delivery.

“There has to be some kind of a study or inquiry or whatever — I hate to say we need another inquiry — but we have to see how much duplication there is of services,” he said.”

“We work in silos. The health-care system is over there, the judicial system is over here, the policing is over there.

“There are a lot of well-meaning people who work down there. I think they need support, but I think we have to break down silos and see if we can get together.”

Reports reviewed for this piece:

Year: 1996

Agency: Royal Commission (created by federal government)

Year: 2001

Agency: Commission created by the Manitoba government

Year: 2004

Agency: Amnesty International

Year: 2006

Agency: The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, Carrier Sekani Family Services, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment and Training Association, the Prince George Native Friendship Center

No More Stolen Sisters: The Need For A Comprehensive Response To Discrimination And Violence Against Indigenous Women In Canada

Year: 2009

Agency: Amnesty International

Year: 2010

Agency: Native Women’s Association of Canada

Year: 2012

Agency: Commission created by the B.C. government

Year: 2014

Agency: Federal Parliamentary committee

Year: 2017

Agency: Inter-American Commission On Human Rights

Report of the inquiry concerning Canada of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Year: 2017

Agency: United Nations

Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Calls for Justice

Year: 2019

Agency: Commission created by federal government

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