The final report of the Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women on violence against aboriginal women and girls states that the report will “shift its focus from the aftermath of the violence to empowering young Aboriginal girls and women.”
But the final report, entitled Ending Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls: Empowerment – A New Beginning, is more than a shift. It is a total departure from the testimony presented to the committee that was accurately summarized in an interim report tabled in the Commons just prior to the last election. As Carol Goar wrote in her recent column in the Toronto Star, the water-downed final report failed native women.
As has become the norm under the Conservatives, secretive in-camera meetings were used to shovel the good work of the last committee, and ignore the testimony of over 150 witnesses and evidence collected during an extensive study – including fact-finding missions to Aboriginal reserve and urban communities – during the last Parliament.
The interim report was a strong call to end violence against Aboriginal women and girls. The committee said “enough” to the pervasive violence. Members of the committee broke the silence: “We want to dream with Aboriginal mothers who give birth to new sons and daughters—to dream that those families will receive the support they need to live lives free of violence, free of racism.”
The interim report summarized committee testimony and evidence. Members called on the government to end the different forms of violence rooted in the effects of racism and colonization. Witnesses urged the committee to implement the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and use the Declaration as a framework. It was agreed upon that a coordinated approach was needed.
The final report, however, deemphasizes the roles of racism and colonization in perpetrating violence against Aboriginal women and girls. Root causes of violence are discussed superficially. And there is no mention whatsoever of the UN Declaration in the final report.
The interim report recognized the importance of addressing root causes. Testimony highlighted “generation impacts of colonization and residential school” and other causes such as poverty, the child welfare system and problems in the justice system.
The final report agrees that the legacy of the residential schools is one of the root causes of violence in Aboriginal communities. But it glosses over systematic problems in the justice system and promotes the paltry $10 million allocated to the Department of Justice to address the tragically high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Let us remember that these funds were largely allocated to a new RCMP missing person database, rather than to victims’ families, and that the Harper government silenced Sisters in Spirit – the project that raised public awareness of the more than 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
The interim report provided a wide range of solutions to tackle the violence against Aboriginal women and girls including: support for community healing, improved addictions treatment, better access to housing and emergency shelters, more women in leadership roles, combating racism and increased funding to initiatives to eliminate the violence.
On the other hand, after the Conservatives gained a majority vote at the committee, the final report signs a different tune: promoting economic development as the main solution to violence against Aboriginal women and girls. The report recommends the adoption of a government bill (Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act) to foster “income adequacy,” and no recommendations related to the root causes of violence.
In her Dissenting Opinion to the final report, Liberal Critic for Status of Women Judy Sgro repeated the Liberal Party’s long-standing call for a national inquiry into the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls:
These realities are unacceptable and must be addressed with aggressive leadership from the Government of Canada. With this in mind, Liberal Members of Parliament have been calling for a full public investigation into the circumstances surrounding the murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls. Additionally, Liberal Members of Parliament have also expressed support for a fulsome and public examination of the systemic causes of this tragedy with the ultimate goal of providing recommendations and specific policy, regulatory and legislative directions on preventing future violence.
Despite these calls, and despite a clear need for a public study or examination of this nature, to date, the Harper government has failed to undertake such an inquiry. Contrarily, government actions would seem to indicate a pronounced indifference to the plight of victimized Aboriginal women and girls.
Liberals continue to call for a national inquiry – especially when Conservative-controlled committees fail completely in their duty to base recommendations on the expert testimony, rather than ideology.