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Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in BC - IACHR Jan 2015

"...the failure to ensure that there are consequences for these crimes has given rise to both real and perceived impunity."

by Inter American Commission on Human Rights

Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in BC.
Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in BC.

Also posted by Kerry Coast:


of the report adopted December 21, 2014, by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States

Full report: 

1. This report addresses the situation of missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia, Canada. It analyzes the context in which indigenous women have gone missing and been murdered over the past several years and the response to this human rights issue by the Canadian State. The report offers recommendations geared towards assisting the State in strengthening its efforts to protect and guarantee indigenous women’s rights.

2. Indigenous women and girls in Canada have been murdered or have gone missing at a rate four times higher than the rate of representation of indigenous women in the Canadian population which is 4.3%. The most comprehensive numbers available were collected by the non-profit organization Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) through an initiative financed by the governmental entity Status of Women Canada. As of March 31, 2010, NWAC has gathered information regarding 582 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls across the country from the past 30 years. Civil society organizations have long claimed that the number could be much higher, and new research indicates that over 1000 indigenous women could be missing or dead across Canada. Although high numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada have been identified at both the national and international levels, there are no trustworthy statistics that could assist in reaching a fuller understanding of this problem. The Government itself recognizes that Canada’s official statistics do not provide accurate information regarding the true numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women. In addition, there is no reliable source of disaggregated data on violence against indigenous women and girls because police across Canada do not consistently report or record whether or not the victims of violent crime are indigenous.

3. As the report explains, the numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women are particularly concerning when considered in light of the fact that indigenous people represent a small percentage of the total population of Canada. Although the information received by the Commission indicates that this could be a nationwide phenomenon, this report is focused on the situation in British Columbia, because the number of missing and murdered indigenous women is higher there in absolute terms than any other province or territory in Canada.

4. British Columbia accounts for 160 cases, 28% of NWAC’s total database of 582 and is followed by Alberta with 93 cases, 16% of the total. The high numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia are concentrated in two different areas of the province: Prince George, in the northern part of the province; and the Downtown East Side, an area of downtown Vancouver, the largest city and metropolitan area in the province.

5. The disappearances and murders of indigenous women in Canada are part of a broader pattern of violence and discrimination against indigenous women in the country. Various official and civil society reports demonstrate that indigenous women are victims of higher rates of violence committed by strangers and acquaintances than non-indigenous women.  During the IACHR visit the Canadian government indicated that indigenous women are significantly over-represented as victims of homicide and are also three times more likely to be victims of violence than non-indigenous women.  Also, indigenous women suffer more frequently from more severe forms of domestic violence than non-indigenous women. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia, Canada

6. According to the information received, the police have failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings and disappearances, extreme forms of violence, and have failed to diligently and promptly investigate these acts. Family members of missing and murdered indigenous women have described dismissive attitudes from police officers working on their cases, a lack of adequate resources allocated to those cases, and a lengthy failure to investigate and recognize a pattern of violence. Also, the existence of multiple policing jurisdictions in British Columbia resulted in confusion between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Police Department regarding responsibility for investigation. This situation in turn has perpetuated the violence; as the failure to ensure that there are consequences for these crimes has given rise to both real and perceived impunity. The kinds of irregularities and deficiencies that have been denounced and documented include: poor report taking and follow up on reports of missing women; inadequate proactive strategies to prevent further harm to women in the Downtown Eastside; failure to consider and properly pursue all investigative strategies; failure to address cross-jurisdictional issues; ineffective coordination between police; and insensitive treatment of families.

7. Canadian authorities and civil society organizations largely agree on the root causes of these high levels of violence against indigenous women and the existing vulnerabilities that make indigenous women more susceptible to violence. These root causes are related to a history of discrimination beginning with colonization and continuing through inadequate and unjust laws and policies such as the Indian Act and forced enrolment in residential schools that continue to affect them. In this regard, the collection of laws determining Aboriginal status established in the Indian Act restricted the freedom of women who identified themselves as indigenous to be recognized as such. Additionally, the residential schools program separated indigenous children from their families, communities, and cultural heritage.

8. As a consequence of this historical discrimination, the IACHR understands that indigenous women and girls constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada. Poverty, inadequate housing, economic and social relegation, among other factors, contribute to their increased vulnerability to violence. In addition, prevalent attitudes of discrimination – mainly relating to gender and race – and the longstanding stereotypes to which they have been subjected, exacerbate their vulnerability.

9. The OAS Charter and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man constitute sources of legal obligation for OAS Member states including Canada.  The organs of the international and regional human rights systems for the protection of human rights have developed jurisprudence that recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples as well as the obligation to guarantee women’s rights, both of which encompass rights to equality, non- discrimination and non- violence.  In this regard, international and regional human rights systems have developed a set of principles when applying the due diligence standards in cases of violence against women, as well as particular standards in relation to missing women. 

10. International and regional systems have also emphasized that a State’s failure to act with due diligence with respect to cases of violence against women is a form of discrimination. The lack of due diligence in cases of violence against indigenous women is especially grave as it affects not only the victims, but also their families and the communities to which they belong. In addition, given the strong connection between the greater risks for violence that indigenous women confront and the social and economic inequalities they face, when applying the due diligence standard, States must implement specific measures to address the social and economic disparities that affect them.

11. The IACHR stresses that addressing violence against indigenous women is not sufficient unless the underlying factors of racial and gender discrimination that originate and exacerbate the violence are also comprehensively addressed. A comprehensive holistic approach applied to violence against indigenous women means addressing the past and present institutional and structural inequalities confronted by these women. Elements that must be addressed include the dispossession of their land, as well as historical laws and policies that have negatively affected indigenous women, put them in an unequal situation, and prevented their full enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

12. The IACHR acknowledges the State’s efforts to address the situation of missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia. The findings in the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry report regarding the irregularities in the handling of the investigations can serve as a starting point for reforms to the investigative function. This could help prevent irregularities in investigations of future disappearances or murders of indigenous women.  With respect to the past cases examined in this report, in accordance with international human rights standards, the Canadian State is obliged to continue the investigation of unsolved cases of missing indigenous women. In this regard, the Commission has become aware of many cases in which investigations have remained pending, or the authorities have decided not to proceed with prosecution. The IACHR stresses the importance of the right of families and relatives to know what happened to their loved ones. The authorities cannot justify the failure to complete an investigation or prosecution on insufficient proof if the reason for the insufficiency is deficiencies or irregularities in the investigation.

13. In addition, the IACHR notes that the State must provide a national coordinated response to address the social and economic factors that prevent indigenous women from enjoying their social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights, the violation of which constitutes a root cause of their exposure to higher risks of violence.

14. The IACHR also identifies serious challenges remaining in the process of coordination and implementation of the State’s policies, services and overall initiatives identified in the present report. The IACHR observes that the State must improve its consultation mechanisms with the different parties involved, especially including indigenous women, indigenous women’s groups, civil society organizations and families and relatives of missing and murdered indigenous women, in order for those mechanisms to be successful.

15. Based on its close analysis of the situation of missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia, in the present report the Commission issues a series of recommendations to the State of Canada.  The IACHR notes the willingness and openness of the Canadian State, at both the federal and provincial levels, to discuss the situation, its causes, and how it can be further addressed. The IACHR also recognizes the steps already taken by the Canadian State, at both the federal and provincial levels, to address some of the particular problems and challenges that indigenous women and girls in Canada, and British Columbia specifically, must confront, a number of which have been identified in this report. In light of the State’s commitment to improve the rights and circumstances of indigenous women, the IACHR hopes that the conclusions and recommendations offered in this report will assist it in putting its commitment into practice.

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