Politics

Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women issues final report with sweeping calls for change

After more than three years, dozens of community meetings and testimony from well over 2,000 Canadians, the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry delivered its final report to the federal government at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que., today.

The report, released today in Ottawa, calls on government and police to address endemic violence

Left to right: Chief commissioner Marion Buller and commissioners Brian Eyolfson, Qajaq Robinson and Michele Audette prepare the final report to give to the government at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

After more than three years, dozens of community meetings and testimony from well over 2,000 Canadians, the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry delivered its final report to the federal government at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que., today.

The report includes many recommendations to government, the police and the larger Canadian public to help address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

A copy of the final, 1,200-page report — and its 231 "calls for justice" — is available here.

At the ceremony, Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, said the calls for justice are not just "recommendations" but are "legal imperatives" that must be implemented to help end a cycle of violence that has claimed untold thousands of Indigenous women.

"This report is about these beautiful Indigenous people and the systemic factors that lead to their losses of dignity, humanity and, in too many cases, losses of life," Buller, the first First Nations woman appointed as a provincial court judge in British Columbia, said in the preface to the long-awaited report.

"This report is about deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide," she said.

The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada — and 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women.

Citing research from Statistics Canada, the inquiry said Indigenous women and girls made up almost 25 per cent of all female homicide victims in this country between 2001 and 2015.

"As a nation, we face a crisis: regardless of which number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is cited, the number is too great. The continuing murders, disappearances and violence prove that this crisis has escalated to a national emergency that calls for timely and effective responses. This is not what Canada is supposed to be about; it is not what it purports to stand for," Buller said.

In 2015, the RCMP said that, based on their research into Indigenous murders over the 2013-14 period, as many as 70 per cent of the offenders were of "Aboriginal origin." But the inquiry said Monday that figure is "unreliable and should not be considered as an accurate or complete statement of the perpetrators of violence."

The inquiry said the sample size behind that statistic — just 32 homicides — was too small to allow for meaningful conclusions. The inquiry did not offer a figure of its own.

Marion Buller, the chief commissioner of the MMIWG inquiry, says a complete shift must take place in Canada to reject colonialism. 0:37

Beyond defining the level of violence against these women as a "Canadian genocide," recommending official language status for Indigenous languages and calling for "a guaranteed annual livable income for all Canadians," the commissioners are also recommending sweeping reforms to the justice system and policing in this country, including stiffer penalties for men who carry out spousal or partner abuse.

"We call upon the federal government to include cases where there is a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse as murder in the first degree under Section 222 of the Criminal Code," the report reads.

First-degree murder is the most serious of all the homicide offences. If convicted, offenders usually spend longer in prison, with fewer chances for parole.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds the final report at the closing ceremony for the inquiry. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The inquiry said that, too often, murder investigations are "marked by indifference" and negative stereotypes that result in Indigenous deaths and disappearances being investigated and treated differently from other cases — differences that result in fewer solved cases.

And when there is a reasonable chance of a conviction, the inquiry said, Crown attorneys too often are willing to accept plea bargains or reduced charges in exchange for guilty pleas in cases of murdered Indigenous women.

To that end, the inquiry calls for more "Indigenous-specific options" for sentencing, without specifying what exactly the government should change on that front.

It calls for further examination of the 'Gladue principles' in Canadian courts — a legal term that stipulates an offender's Indigenous ancestry should be considered in the sentencing process. Inquiry commissioner Qajaq Robinson said Monday that many families told her at the hearings that, in some cases, Gladue is seen by many offenders as a "get out of jail free card."

MMIWG Commissioner Michèle Audette says that the justice system needs to be fixed because Indigenous families told her that it isn't functioning. 0:44

"While the prosecutorial decisions ... may well be justified, the frequency with which this occurs understandably raises questions in the Indigenous community," the inquiry said.

To ensure more equitable outcomes, the inquiry said, more Indigenous judges, justices of the peace and police should be hired to ensure Indigenous voices are in positions of power in the criminal justice system.

Failing that, the report said a separate court system for the Indigenous population should be established to lead to more "meaningful and culturally appropriate justice practices ..."

Far too many murder cases aren't solved and don't make it to trial at all, the inquiry said — and that means the federal funds ought to be bolstering the ranks of Indigenous police forces across the country to ensure better investigations.

PM Justin Trudeau promises to work with Indigenous partners and turn the inquiry’s Calls for Justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action. 1:02

"We call upon all governments to immediately and dramatically transform Indigenous policing from its current state as a mere delegation to an exercise in self-governance and self-determination over policing," the report reads.

"The federal government's First Nations Policing Program must be replaced with a new legislative and funding framework, consistent with international and domestic policing best practices and standards, that must be developed by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in partnership with Indigenous Peoples."

The report also calls on provincial and territorial governments to improve the restraining order system by making them "available, accessible, promptly issued and effectively serviced and resourced" — to help Indigenous women stay out of harm's way when faced with a violent partner.

Beyond facilitating access to restraining orders (or "protection orders," as they're often known in Canada), the inquiry is calling on the government to offer guaranteed access to financial support, legislated paid leave and disability benefits and "appropriate trauma care" to Indigenous victims of crime or other traumatic events.

"Skeptics will be fearful and will complain that the financial cost of rebuilding is too great, that enough has been done, that enough money has been spent," said Buller. "To them I say, we as a nation cannot afford not to rebuild. Otherwise, we all knowingly enable the continuation of genocide in our own country."

Michèle Audette, one of the commissioners and a former president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, said the RCMP need fundamental reforms.

The inquiry has recommended Ottawa establish "robust and well-funded Indigenous civilian police oversight bodies" to prevent police negligence and misconduct in rape and sexual assault cases. The inquiry has also recommended the RCMP hire more Inuit officers to help police Canada's far north; there are thought to be fewer than 10 currently working with the service.

MMIWG Chief Commissioner Marion Buller explains the inquiry's final report, and discusses why the inquiry used the term genocide. 6:58

"They made an apology but we want action," Audette said of the national police force. "We have solutions in the report. We want it now. We want to work with you. I want to work with the police ... the justice system that is in place right now across Canada — it's not functioning, it's bitter and we know it. The women and families told us they don't want to go through that system. That has to stop."

'You have my word': PM vows to implement an action plan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received the report from the commissioners after a blanket ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History Monday.

In a short address to the hundreds of family members, elders and dignitaries gathered for the closing ceremony, Trudeau vowed to review the calls for justice and implement meaningful reforms to the country's institutions.

Despite calls from some in the crowd for him to say the word "genocide," Trudeau did not use that word to describe the violence faced by Indigenous women and girls. After the the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on the Indian residential school system in 2015, Trudeau called on the Conservative government of the day to take action address that instance of "cultural genocide."

Trudeau said his government will now begin the work of developing an action plan to address the "absolutely unacceptable" levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls.

"To the survivors and families here today, and to those watching or listening at home, I want you to know that this report is not the end. The work of the commissioners, the stories they have collected, and the calls for justice they have put forward will not be placed on a shelf to collect dust," Trudeau said.

"You have my word that my government will turn the inquiry's calls for justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action ... we must continue to decolonize our existing structures."

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett reacts to the MMIWG final report and discusses what the government is doing next. 7:02

Trudeau said the government already has committed to major reforms for Indigenous peoples, including new cash injections for on-reserve housing, a plan to end all long-term boil-water advisories, a fundamental overhaul of the child and family services regime, legislation for an Indigenous languages strategy and a push to foster more self-government. The last federal budget included billions of dollars in new spending for Indigenous files.

"To the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, to their families, and to survivors – we have failed you. But we will fail you no longer," Trudeau said.

In addition to the calls for government action and new funding commitments, the report said political leaders alone cannot solve a decades-long societal problem.

The inquiry called on all Canadians to read the report, denounce violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people when they see it, and work to "decolonize" by "learning the true history of Canada."

"Learn about and celebrate Indigenous Peoples' history, cultures, pride, and diversity, acknowledging the land you live on and its importance to local Indigenous communities, both historically and today," the inquiry said.

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.


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About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.