'This is genocide': N.B. Mi'kmaq scholar says Canada failed to act on MMIWG
New Brunswick's aboriginal affairs minister says he'll 'engage' with First Nations
Although the final report into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is lengthy, one Mi'kmaq scholar and laywer says it's precisely the magnitude of the document that makes a national strategy possible.
"Without something as comprehensive as this, people won't understand the gravity of it," said Pamela Palmater, originally from New Brunswick and now chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.
"This is genocide."
The 1,200-page report, which makes 231 calls for justice, was released at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que. Monday. It's the result of a three-year inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG.)
The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other group of women in the country, and 16 times more than white women and girls.
While the report is new, Palmater said many of the conclusions are not.
"Much of this was repeated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Donald Marshall Inquiry, the Ipperwash Inquiry," said Palmater.
"Canada has failed to act. We're calling on Canada to act."
New Brunswick's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jake Stewart attended the ceremony and said while he has not read the report, he was moved by it. He has pledged to work to implement the calls for justice that First Nation communities want implemented.
"We have to read the report, and we have to engage with the community based on the needs of the family members and the communities we engaged," said Stewart.
The report labels the murder and disappearances of Indigenous women as a "Canadian genocide," although there has been some backlash to using the term "genocide."
In his remarks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau avoided using the term, despite some in the audience urging him to do so.
Over the weekend, former Aboriginal Affairs minister Bernard Valcourt called the term "propagandist" and said he "takes offence to Canada being accused of genocide."
Palmater said labelling what happened to Indigenous women as genocide is important because it signifies that a crime has taken place.
She said the United Nations has a list of attributes of a genocide, and an action only needs to include one aspect from that list.
"The mass murders of a million people all at once is genocide, but so is the forcible transfer of the children of Native people out of their … homes and into non-Native homes on a mass level," said Palmater.
"That's also genocide."
Justice system overhaul
The report calls for many changes to Canada's justice system including a greater focus on restorative justice programs and Indigenous peoples' courts, and increasing Indigenous representation on all courts.
Palmater said the current system needs an overhaul.
"If this justice system a) isn't protecting Indigenous women and b) is purposefully racially discriminating against them by over-incarcerating them and those kind of things, then we have a real problem," she said.
Some of the calls for justice include things that could be done by the provincial government, including the establishment of "robust and well-funded Indigenous civilian police oversight bodies" and appointing more Indigenous judges to New Brunswick courts and expediting protection orders for Indigenous women.
CBC News reached out to New Brunswick Justice Minister Andrea Anderson-Mason but she was not made available for an interview.
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.
With files from Tori Weldon and Harry Forestell