Murders and disappearances of Indigenous women caused by inequality, marginalization – Canada must act to prevent violence: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


(January 12, 2015) (OTTAWA and VANCOUVER) A groundbreaking investigation by the leading human rights body for the Americas points to Canada’s history of colonization, long-standing inequality, and economic and social marginalization as the root causes of violence against Indigenous women. It says national co-ordinated action is required by Canadian governments.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is an arm of the Organization of American States, launched an investigation into the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls in British Columbia in 2012, and released its report today. It finds Canada is obligated under international human rights law to prevent the violence by taking measures to deal with poverty, access to housing and employment, and disproportionate criminalization. The report also strongly supports a nation-wide inquiry into the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The investigation was initiated at the request of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA). “This report is ground-breaking,” says NWAC Vice-President Dawn Harvard. “It is the first in-depth examination by an expert human rights body of the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women in Canada.”
Four key conclusions apply in all parts of Canada. “First, Canada is legally required to address the violence against Indigenous women fully and effectively,” says Harvard. “This is not a matter of choice. Our obligations under international human rights law require us to eliminate the discrimination which causes the violence and to ensure that Canada’s institutions—including the police and the justice system—respond effectively when Indigenous women disappear or are murdered.”

“Second,” says Mavis Erickson, Women’s Advocate for the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council which represents Indigenous peoples in northern British Columbia, “the Commission made a key finding of fact. The Commission concluded that the root causes of the high levels of violence against Indigenous women lie in a history of discrimination beginning with colonization and continuing through laws and policies such as the Indian Act and residential schools.”

“The Commission says this history laid the foundations for pervasive violence and created the risks Indigenous women face today, through economic marginalization, social dislocation and psychological trauma,. In this way,” says Sharon McIvor of FAFIA, the Commission’s report directly refutes the Prime Minister’s claim that this is a matter of individual crimes, not a social
phenomenon. The Commission says clearly that there is a broad and known pattern of heightened risk and vulnerability, and the risk factors must be addressed.”

Leilani Farha, Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing noted the Commission’s clarity on the relationship between Indigenous women’s experiences of violence and their disadvantaged social and economic conditions. “The Commission has told Canada, unequivocally, that it must take effective measures to address risk factors, and specifically that Canada must combat the poverty of Indigenous women, improve education and employment, guarantee adequate housing and address the disproportionate application of the criminal law against them.”

“This broad understanding of the scope of Canada’s obligations explains why the report says implementing the Oppal Inquiry’s recommendations in British Columbia is necessary, but just a starting point for reforms in one area,” says Shelagh Day of FAFIA.

“The third key point,” said Claudette Dumont-Smith, Executive Director of NWAC, “is that both federal and provincial governments have responsibility for the legal status and conditions of Indigenous women and their communities. This is not only a provincial matter, nor should it be a political football tossed back and forth between levels of government.”

“The Inter-American Commission is clear. Canada must provide a co-ordinated, national response to the violence. This is what we have been working for and what we do not yet have.”

“Finally, the Inter-American Commission strongly supports a nation-wide inquiry,” said Holly Johnson, Chair of FAFIA. “Despite this report and others, the Commission says there is much more to understand and to acknowledge if we are to effectively address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.”

“This is a crucial conclusion. The message of the Inter-American Commission is that Canada has a lot of work to do, and it must be done by all levels of government, with the full participation of Indigenous women, and with effective nation-wide co-ordination.”


Media Contacts:
Claudette Dumont-Smith, Executive Director, NWAC, 613-722-3033 X 223
Sharon McIvor, Human Rights Committee, FAFIA, 250-378-7479
Shelagh Day, Human Rights Committee, FAFIA, 604-872-0750
Holly Johnson, Chair, FAFIA, 613-355-5582
Leilani Farha, Executive Director, Canada Without Poverty, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, 613-302-7769
Mavis Erickson, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Women’s Advocate, 250-649-6858 (Prince George)

Additional Contact:
Gwen Brodsky, counsel to NWAC at the Oppal Inquiry and counsel to NWAC and FAFIA for the IACHR investigation, 604-874-9211
Elizabeth Sheehy, Vice-Dean, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa, 613-562-5800 X 3317
The IACHR report can be found at and at

15.01.12 Canada Must Act to Prevent Violence MMIW Inter-American Commission on HR

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