MONTREAL — A national inquiry into the widespread killings and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls equates the violence with genocide and holds Canada itself responsible for much of it, in a report to be released on Monday.
That powerful rebuke of violence against one of the country’s most vulnerable minorities comes after a nearly three-year inquiry during which more than 1,500 families of victims and survivors testified in emotional hearings across the country.
The report, which will be officially released in a ceremony Monday, says the violence against women and girls amounts “to a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.”
“This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures,” the report adds.
The report cites, among other events, Canada’s onetime practice of sending thousands of Indigenous children to residential schools, where they were abused over decades.
Referring to the chronic mistreatment of Indigenous people, the report chastises “Canadian society” for showing “appalling apathy.”
[“Canada and the system failed Tina at every step.” The death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was one of an increasing number of deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls that spurred a national inquiry.]
In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the country’s former policy of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their families for schooling a “cultural genocide.”
The new report offers a damning indictment not just of the killers but of a country that has too often allowed them to act with impunity.
“Yes, genocide is exactly what’s happening, and Canada is still in denial about this,” said, Lorelei Williams, a leading Indigenous advocate in Vancouver whose aunt went missing four decades ago and whose cousin was murdered by the serial killer Robert Pickton.
Indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of Canada’s females but 16 percent of the females killed, according to government statistics. Some 1,181 Indigenous women were killed or disappeared across the country from 1980 to 2012, according to a 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Indigenous advocates say the number is far higher since so many deaths have gone unreported.
Among those taken to task in the new report are the police and the criminal justice system. Both have historically failed Indigenous women by ignoring their concerns and viewing them “through a lens of pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes,” it says.
That, in turn, has created mistrust of the authorities among Indigenous women and girls, the report says.
Police “apathy often takes the form of stereotyping and victim-blaming, such as when police describe missing loved ones as ‘drunks,’ ‘runaways out partying’ or ‘prostitutes unworthy of follow-up,’” the report says. Survivors and their families told the inquiry that they often found the “court process inadequate, unjust and retraumatizing.”
In recent years, human rights advocates have bemoaned the lack of representation of Indigenous people on juries, which some have blamed for the acquittals of white suspects in crimes involving Indigenous victims of both genders.
One prominent case was that of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man from Saskatchewan, who in 2016 was fatally shot in the head by Gerald Stanley, a white farmer. There was a national outcry and protests across the country after Mr. Stanley was found not guilty of second-degree murder by an all-white jury.
To help improve law enforcement and prevent violence against women, the report calls for expanding Indigenous women’s shelters and improving policing in Indigenous communities, in particular in remote areas; increasing the number of Indigenous people on police forces; and empowering more Indigenous women to serve on civilian boards that oversee the police.
It also calls for changing the criminal code to classify some killings of Indigenous women — whether premeditated or not — as first-degree murder.
Recognizing that cultural discrimination has marginalized Indigenous people, it also calls for the federal and provincial governments to give Indigenous languages the same status as Canada’s official languages, English and French
For decades, Indigenous languages in Canada were suppressed, including at residential schools where children were forbidden to speak their native languages.
The report seeks to humanize the suffering Indigenous women have been forced to endure.
So many Indigenous women have been killed or have disappeared on a stretch of highway in British Columbia that passes through economically deprived Indian reserves that it is known as the Highway of Tears. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, which has a large native population, volunteers routinely dredge the Red River to search for the bodies of missing Indigenous women and girls.
The national inquiry into the killings was convened after the body of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl from the Sagkeeng First Nation, was found in the Red River in 2014, wrapped in a duvet weighed down with 25 pounds of rocks.
Her death and the subsequent acquittal of the main suspect in it spawned outrage and protests across Canada, as well as calls for an investigation into why so many Indigenous girls and women were dying.
The case attracted particular opprobrium because Ms. Fontaine had been in contact with provincial social workers, the police and health care professionals in the 24 hours before her death.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has made a priority of addressing the country’s troubled colonial past. More than two years ago, he told the United Nations General Assembly that he was committed to righting historical wrongs.
“For First Nations, Métis Nation and Inuit peoples in Canada, those early colonial relationships were not about strength through diversity, or a celebration of differences,” he said. “For Indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect and abuse.”
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Paul Tuccaro, a member the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta, said he hoped the report would hold accountable any police officers who failed the women.
Mr. Tuccaro’s younger sister Amber, 20, disappeared in August 2010, he said. The mother of a 14-month-old son, she vanished after hitching a ride. Her remains were found in a farmer’s field, and a killer has never been found.
Mr. Tuccaro said it was accurate to call the killings a genocide.
“Whoever is doing what they’re doing, they think they can kill all these women, and nothing will come of it because they’re just ‘Indians,’” he said.
The reconciliation commission documented widespread physical, cultural and sexual abuse at the government-sponsored schools that Indigenous children were forced to attend.
The residential schools also fractured Indigenous families, and many of the victims turned to alcohol and drugs. Experts say Indigenous girls and women have been vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse, and the report cites the lack of sufficient access to public services including health care and education.
The report notes that “intergenerational trauma” resulting from decades of colonial abuses — including the forced sterilization of some Indigenous women and the forced adoptions of Indigenous children by non-Indigenous families — has also contributed to the cycle of violence against women.
Some critics have criticized the inquiry, saying it was not transparent and did not communicate well with victims’ families.
Speaking before the report was released, Cindy Blackstock, a professor of social work at McGill University, who is director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, said she feared that the government had not allocated sufficient money to put in place the inquiry’s recommendations.
“We have seen the same recommendations time and time again, and they aren’t implemented,” she said. “Without oversight or legally binding laws, these are just lofty words while indigenous women and girls continue to die.”
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