Canada: UN to investigate missing and murdered Aboriginal women

Jeannette Corbiere Lavel and
Sharon Donna McIvor.
(Photo: FAFIA)

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women decided to conduct an inquiry into the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls across Canada. The decision was announced this week by Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), and Sharon McIvor, of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA, focal point of Social Watch in that North American country).

The inquiry procedure is used to investigate what the Committee, composed of 23 independent experts from around the world, believes to be very serious violations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In January and in September 2011, faced with the continuing failures of Canadian governments to take effective action in connection with the murders and disappearances, FAFIA and NWAC requested the Committee, which is the United Nations’ main authority on women’s rights, to launch an inquiry.

Canada has signed on to the treaty known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which authorizes the Committee to investigate allegations of “grave or systematic” violations by means of an inquiry. Now that the Committee has formally initiated the inquiry, Canada is expected to cooperate with the investigation.

“FAFIA and NWAC requested this Inquiry because violence against Aboriginal women and girls is a national tragedy that demands immediate and concerted action,” said Jeannette Corbiere Lavell.

“Aboriginal women in Canada experience rates of violence 3.5 times higher than non-Aboriginal women, and young Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die of violence. NWAC has documented the disappearances and murders of over 600 Aboriginal women and girls in Canada over about 20 years, and we believe that there may be many more,” added Corbiere Lavell.

“The response of law enforcement and other government officials has been slow, often dismissive of reports made by family members of missing women, uncoordinated and generally inadequate,” she said.

“These murders and disappearances have their roots in systemic discrimination and in the denial of basic economic and social rights,” said Sharon McIvor of FAFIA.

“We believe that the CEDAW Committee can play a vital role not only in securing justice for the women and girls who have died or disappeared, but also in preventing future violations, by identifying the action that Canadian governments must take to address the root causes. Canada has not lived up to its obligations under international human rights law to prevent, investigate and remedy violence against Aboriginal women and girls,” remarked McIvor.

“The Committee carried out an inquiry into similar violations in Mexico five years ago and we expect the process will follow the same lines here in Canada,” she said. “Mexico invited the Committee’s representatives to make an on-site visit and during the visit the representatives interviewed victim’s families, government officials at all levels, and NGOs.”

“The Committee’s report on the inquiry spelled out the steps that Mexico should take regarding the individual cases and the systemic discrimination underlying the violations. Mexican women’s groups say that the Committee’s intervention helped to spur Government action and we hope to see the same result here in Canada”, said McIvor.”

More information
UN Backgrounder:
What does a CEDAW Inquiry mean: