Canada under investigation by UN for missing and murdered women

Introduction by Roger Annis, Dec 27, 2011

The following dossier (seven items) covers the decision in December 2011 of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to launch a formal inquiry into the response of the Canadian government and federal and provincial agencies to the murders and disappearances of more than 600 women across Canada in the past several decades. A disproportionately high number of women victims are Aboriginal.The only other formal investigation of a country by CEDAW took place in Mexico in 2003-2004, in response to the murders of women occurring in the state of Chihauhua.

Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states “if the Committee receives reliable information that, in its opinion, indicates grave or systematic violations by a State Party of the rights set forth in the Convention, the Committee shall invite the State Party to cooperate in the examination of the information and, to this end, to submit observations with regard to the information received.

“Subsequently, the Committee may designate one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry and report urgently to the Committee. Where warranted and with the consent of the  State Party, the inquiry may include a visit to its territory. All actions carried out by the Committee shall be confidential and the cooperation of the State Party shall be sought at all stages of the proceedings.”

The lightning rod of the demand by women’s and Aboriginal groups in Canada for an investigation are allegations of criminal negligence police and judicial agencies in the case of 62 year old serial killer Robert Pickton in Vancouver. He was convicted in 2007 of the second degree murder of six women, but the number of his victims is thought to be as high as 49. Most of the women were sex trade workers.

In northern British Columbia, 18 women have been killed or disappeared along the 700 km stretch of Highway 16 connecting Prince George to the BC coast at Prince Rupert in the past 40 years. Most of the women were Aboriginal, none of the cases has been solved. The highway is now known as the “Highway of Tears.” There are many more stories such as this across Canada.

The ball now rests in the court of the Canadian government. Will it cooperate with the CEDAW investigation? No official response has been issued by the government. The Canadian Parliament adjourned its current session on December 16 for the Christmas holiday. It will reconvene on January 30, 2012…


1.  UN Will Conduct Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada

News release, by the Native Women’s Association of Canada

December 13, 2011–The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has decided to conduct an inquiry into the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls across Canada. The Committee, composed of 23 independent experts from around the world, is the UN’s main authority on women’s human rights. The Committee’s decision was announced today 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).

The inquiry procedure is used to investigate what the Committee believes to be very serious violations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. 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 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 of the Convention by means of an inquiry. Now that the Committee has formally initiated the inquiry, Canada will be expected to cooperate with the Committee’s 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 twenty years, and we believe that there may be many more. 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.”

“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.”

“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,” said McIvor. “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.”

For further information, please contact:
Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President Native Women’s Association of Canada, Tel.: 613-899-2343
Sharon McIvor Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, Tel.: 250-378-7479

For assistance, please contact:
Claudette Dumont-Smith, Executive Director Native Women’s Association of Canada, Tel.: 613-656-3004
Shelagh Day, Chair, Human Rights Committee Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, Tel.: 604-872-0750

2. Downtown Eastside (Vancouver) Women’s Organizations Release UN Submission Details

Submission includes urgent appeal about discriminatory conduct of BC Missing Women’s Inquiry

December 14, 2011, Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories– In the past twenty four hours, the positive and much-awaited news has been released that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has initiated a significant official inquiry process into the murders and disappearances of women and girls across Canada.

Two women’s groups based in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, a neighbourhood known as the ‘ground zero’ for missing and murdered women, who are mostly Indigenous women, are releasing details of the submissions they made in October 2011 under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

According to Carol Martin who is Nisga’a, a victim services worker at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, and member of the February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee, “All levels of government have failed to understand or take action on those systemic injustices that allowed the unimaginable deaths and disappearances of so many women, disproportionately Indigenous, from the Downtown Eastside for decades. This is why we decided to make our voices heard at the international level.”

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) and February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee (WMMC) have been rooted in the Downtown Eastside for the past thirty years and have been raising issues of discrimination based on gender and race, a legacy of colonialism, institutional discrimination, economic marginalization, and the enabling environment for violence against women in Canada’s poorest postal code.

In October 2011, the two organizations made submissions to UN CEDAW in light of the failure of the provincial Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry. The organizations formally submitted that “The Commission continues the pattern of grave and systemic discrimination against women in the Downtown Eastside which the Commission was supposed to investigate.”

The UN CEDAW Committee has already repeatedly recommended that Canada engage in comprehensive investigation, analysis, and action on the issue of missing and murdered women, especially Indigenous women. But dozens of women’s, DTES, and Indigenous groups have refused to endorse or participate in the provincial government’s current Sham Inquiry. The clear failure of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry demonstrates the critical and urgent need for the international community to take on this task.

Say Marlene George and Lisa Yellow Quill, “We as, Aboriginal Women are not just over-represented amongst missing and murdered women. For too long, Aboriginal women and girls have been bearing the brunt of all extreme forms of violence while politicians, authorities and others – even women’s groups – continue to grandstand on this issue.

“The numbers of murdered and missing women has far exceeded the ‘official’ count of 600 women. The time has now presented itself for a more global look at the ongoing tragedy of Canada’s murdered and missing women. We have inherited a horrendously violent legacy from the colonization of this continent and this country, founded on the creation of hate for Aboriginal women and everything our power and resistance represents.”

The groups also argue that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination stipulate particular guarantees, rights, and freedoms for Indigenous women who are over-represented among missing and murdered women.

“We as Aboriginal women want to know, will the Canadian government dismiss or welcome the UN Committee and it’s inquiry? Minister Ambrose has already given contradictory and duplicitous statements attempting to undermine the significance of this issue. We are sick and tired of Canada portraying itself as a champion of human rights given the ongoing legacy of theft of land and resources, impoverishment, and attempted assimilation of Indigenous nations, which is one of the root causes of the displacement of our women,” says Laura Holland from the Wet’suwet’en and Aboriginal Women’s Action Network.

The two organizations are seeking a series of remedies from the UN CEDAW Committee, including the following:

– A UN CEDAW inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered women in the Downtown Eastside which includes a country visit to Canada and specifically to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for a meeting with women residents of the DTES.

– Urging the Committee to outline the downfalls of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and to clarify that the proceedings of this Commission do not meet the recommendations set out by the Committee in regard to missing and murdered women investigations.

The UN submissions of the DEWC and WMMC were formally supported with letters to the UN by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, PIVOT Legal Society, BC Civil Liberties Association, West Coast LEAF, PACE, WISH, Ending Violence Association, Native Youth Sexual Health Network, and the DTES Neighbourhood Council.

“We have been a witness to the provincial government and federal government’s gross and unconscionable negligence as well as racism and sexism in investigating disappearances and murders of our women. This is representative of the legacy of discrimination, racism, sexism, and colonialism that leads to these tragedies in the first place. We hope that we can attain justice at the international level as we keep educating and mobilizing at the grassroots with all our other front-line groups and communities,” the groups state.

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MEDIA CONTACTS: Marlene George: 604 665 3005; Corinthia Kelly: 778 709 6494; Alice Kendall: 778 322 4594; Harsha Walia: 778 885 0040; Lisa Yellow Quill 604 618 1061; Mona Woodward 604-697-5662

3. Union of BC Indian Chiefs Applauds UN Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

News Release, Dec 14, 2011

Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver BC–An inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada is being launched by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

“The Union of BC Indian Chiefs welcomes the inquiry undertaken by the CEDAW into the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls and believes it will finally hold the Canadian government to account on the international stage,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

“To truly address and eliminate the tragic and devastating issues of violence against Indigenous women and girls, the Harper Government must be compelled and forced to examine the intersecting and deeply-rooted factors of poverty, colonialism, and systemic racism. We hope that the Harper Government will not try to block the inquiry as we believe an open and inclusive inquiry can be helpful in addressing this national tragedy.”

“The Union of BC Indian Chiefs supports the efforts of Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee and we will fully cooperate with the CEDAW inquiry,” said Grand Chief Phillip.

“This is not only a ‘women’s issue’, this is a fundamental and universal human rights issue.”

In conclusion, Grand Chief Phillip stated. “Our hearts and prayers forever go out to the families who lost their loved ones and to their many friends who continue their commitment to ensure justice will be served. The UBCIC joins them and will never abandon the families who have lost a daughter, a sister, a mother, an aunt and a grandmother.”

Media inquiries:
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs Phone: (250) 490-5314

4. BCCLA Calls on Canada to facilitate UN investigation

News release, December 15, 2011

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is calling on Canada’s provincial and federal governments to support and facilitate a recently announced investigation of Canada by the United Nations. The Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action have announced that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) will be investigating the disappearance and murders of Aboriginal women in Canada.

“All levels of government in Canada have an obligation under international law to facilitate and assist this Committee in their important investigation”, said Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “The failure of the BC government to allow meaningful participation of women at risk in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has attracted international attention. What kind of inquiry into neglect and discrimination gives resources largely to those who did the neglecting and discriminating? What kind of an inquiry into paternalistic attitudes towards women appoints someone to represent them, rather than let them represent themselves?

Supporting this United Nations investigation is Canada’s chance to correct an ongoing wrong and an international embarrassment.”

The BCCLA, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and more than twenty other organizations walked away from B.C.’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry just three months ago. The main reasons for pulling out were the gross disparity between the resources provided to marginalized women compared to those bestowed upon police and government agencies and the Commission’s limited terms of reference.

BC is providing two publicly funded lawyers to represent thousands of marginalized women across B.C. and Canada and 20 non-government organizations. In contrast, government is funding one Vancouver police officer alone with two lawyers, 14 more government funded lawyers represent police and government interests generally, and the Commission itself has nine lawyers, plus additional staff.

Holmes added, “The U.N.’s decision to show up now and investigate Canada is an indictment of the BC government’s decision to refuse to follow Commissioner Oppal’s recommendation that these marginalized women be supported to participate in this Inquiry. Clearly the U.N. does not agree with the government that this Inquiry can usefully proceed without the women who the Inquiry is intended to benefit.”

A BCCLA letter was included in a package of materials assembled by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and sent CEDAW in October asking CEDAW to intervene in the matter of the disappearance and murder of marginalized women and girls generally in Canada.

The BCCLA looks forward to fully cooperating and participating in the CEDAW investigation in partnership with women’s groups across Canada to demand equal rights to protection by police for marginalized women in this country.


Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, (604) 838-6856
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, (604) 630-9753

5. Nationwide vigil for missing and murdered women

By staff, Indian Country Today Media Network, October 4, 2011

The British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry may be holding hearings across Canada about the investigation of serial killer William Pickton, but that has not solved the disappearances and murders of more than 700 aboriginal women nationwide.

October 4 is the day that Sisters in Spirit, the initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) that first documented and totted up statistics on the overwhelming proportion of aboriginal women subject to violence compared to the rest of the population, has designated to honor the fallen and disappeared. Thus on this day, from Prince Edward Island to Haida territory, at least 60 vigils are being held by activist groups and victims’ families to commemorate the more than 720 women, according to the NWAC’s website. It was the sixth year that this vigil has been held.

Vigil in Ottawa, Oct 4, 2011 demanding federal government action to stop the killing and disappearances of Aboriginal women. Photo Valerie Talisman, Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN)

There was the event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where a Unity March began that wended its way to Victoria Island, led by the NWAC, Amnesty International Canada and other groups. There they held a feast and celebration. Likewise, around the country, dozens of communities small and large did the same.

“The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented more than 600 cases of aboriginal women and girls who have been murdered or who remain missing,” the NWAC and several other groups said in a joint statement that was read at every vigil, quoting one of the more conservative estimates. “This violence has touched the lives of almost every First Nations, Inuit and Métis family and community. And it has moved Canadians from all walks of life to demand action.”

The groups called for a comprehensive, cohesive plan to eliminate such violence, including improving public awareness and accountability; funding the organizations that provide assistance to indigenous girls and women; address root causes of violence, especially by closing the economic gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, and eliminate inequities in the child-welfare system so as to better serve aboriginal children.

“There can be no piecemeal solution to a tragedy of this scale,” the NWAC and its affiliates said. “We are calling for all levels of government to work with aboriginal women and representative organizations to establish a comprehensive, national plan of action to stop violence against women.”

NWAC was joined by Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Families of Sisters In Spirit (FSIS) KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, Minwaashin Lodge, National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Area: Work, Educate and Resists (POWER), and Project of Heart

The events capped the annual 30 Days of Justice campaign, organized by Families of Sisters in Spirit, to raise awareness of the issue while honoring the women’s memories and demanding a cessation of violence toward aboriginal women.

6. Interview with Sharon McIvor, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (CFAIA)

Sharon McIvor is a member of the Lower Nicola First Nation in the B.C. interior, near Merritt. Her organization, CFAIA, was one of the initiators of the action to bring an international inquiry to Canada over the murders and disappearances of women in Canada, many of whom are Aboriginal. She is interviewed on CBC Vancouver Radio One on Dec. 13, 2011 following the announcement by CEDAW that it will investigate Canada. The interview is the first item of this CBC podcast:

7. 2009 Report by Amnesty International Canada Criticizes Canadian Government for Stalling on Response to Concerns About Murdered, Disappeared Aboriginal Women

‘Canada: Follow Up to the Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’. Report by Amnesty International Canada (8 pages).

From the introduction:
In November 2008, the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on Canada to report within one year on progress made in the implementation of CEDAW’s recommendation to “examine the reasons for the failure to investigate the cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women and to take the necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system.”

Almost a year later, there has been no substantive consultation with Indigenous women’s organizations in Canada on a response to CEDAW’s recommendation. CEDAW’s recommendation concerns human rights issues of the utmost seriousness…

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