VANCOUVER—Years of heartbreak, delays, controversy and outcry have culminated in a scathing report that calls Canada complicit in the deaths and disappearances of thousands.
An advance copy of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ final report, which will be officially released Monday, blames colonialism and indifferent government for enabling a “genocide.”
Nearly 2,400 people have participated in the inquiry since it began in 2016. Commissioners travelled the country from coast to coast, hearing stories of pain and loss as they gathered tissues soaked with tears, burning them in sacred fires.
“The fact that this National Inquiry is happening now doesn’t mean that Indigenous Peoples waited this long to speak up; it means it took this long for Canada to listen,” reads part of the introduction.
The final report — titled Reclaiming Power and Place — delves into the definition of genocide and how it applies to the crisis in Canada, saying “colonialist structures” have “enabled” the murders and disappearances.
“Genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions and actions detailed within this report,” reads the executive summary. “As many witnesses expressed, this country is at war, and Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people are under siege.”
An RCMP overview, cited by the inquiry in its interim report in 2017, put the number of missing and murdered at 1,200 between 1980 and 2012. However, in 2016, Canada’s then minister of the status of women Patty Hajdu referenced the work of advocates who found the total number, going back decades, is closer to 4,000.
Canada has breached seven international conventions and declarations on human rights in its lack of response, the report charges, laying out more than 200 recommendations, characterized as calls for justice.
Among them is a call for an action plan from the federal government to protect people from violence. It also calls on police services to increase recruitment “inclusive of diverse Indigenous cultural backgrounds” and calls for the creation of a transparent special investigation unit to examine police misconduct and failures to investigate.
Hyper-sexualization of Indigenous women has created a perception that they are always sexually available, says the report, which causes people to dismiss violence against them. Police recruits, it says, should go through a screening process for bias against different cultures as well as people experiencing poverty.
In a response, the office of Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett stressed Ottawa is working to stop the “ongoing national tragedy.” But Bennett’s office would not comment on the details of the leaked report.
“The commission will publicly present its findings and recommendations on June 3, and we very much look forward to that,” it wrote in an email. “Out of respect for the independent National Inquiry and the families, we won’t comment on the details of the final report before then.”
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls would not comment on the details of the leaked report. It will carry on with its planned release Monday, the commission said in an email.
Vancouver’s Lorelei Williams has twice lived through the pain of a missing or murdered loved one.
Her aunt Belinda Williams has been missing since 1978, and her cousin Tanya Holyk disappeared in 1996. Serial killer Robert Pickton was accused of Holyk’s death, but the charges were stayed in 2010 along with nearly 20 others.
The Indigenous activist said the report offers “no closure yet.” She hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ensures the recommendations in the report are acted on.
“The issue of MMIWG is still happening right now and it’s a huge issue. I’m definitely emotional, its overwhelming, it’s the end of that chapter of the National Inquiry that we were fighting for and we’ve had some major disappointments,” Williams said.
“And now it’s ending, and it hit me the other day: like what is going to come out of this?”
The report emphasizes that the suffering of Indigenous people today is the result of an unbroken history of violence, injustice and neglect going back to the earliest days of colonization.
As settlers moved to Canada, they imposed European laws, culture and institutions. Those institutions and governments have consistently lacked the will to enact change, the report states.
“In the justice system, the health-care system, child welfare and in other situations, witnesses commonly described an institutional culture that makes women and 2SLGBTQQIA people feel as though the violence they’re experiencing is due to their own personal failings, rather than recognizing that these challenges are a reflection of the ways their own institutions contribute to colonial violence,” reads the report.
The report says many Indigenous women blame unresolved trauma as a root cause of chronic health problems. Poor access to medical facilities in remote areas compounds the issue, forcing women to leave their communities to seek treatment.
“Relocation for health and wellness services often involves travelling alone and being housed or placed in culturally and physically unsafe environments that fail to provide the supports for Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people to be safe while accessing services,” it says.
Similarly, women and girls become vulnerable when fleeing domestic violence without support.
“These factors create risk and expose Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people to targeting by gangs or human traffickers for exploitation and abuse.”
The report also addresses issues with different Indigenous communities.
The lack of Inuit women in decision-making positions, it says, hinders attempts to create policies to protect Inuit women and girls. Inuit are often forced from their communities to seek medical treatment, reside in foster care, enter assisted living or other reasons. This leaves many Inuit without the safety and security of their family and community, according to the report.
With files from Alex Ballingall and Cherise Seucharan
Jeremy Nuttall is the lead investigative reporter for Star Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports