OFOVC statement on the two-year anniversary of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
June 3, 2021 - Today marks the two-year anniversary of “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” (MMIWG). For the past two years, the survivors, affected families, advocates and supporters have been waiting for some type of action or response to the Final Report’s Calls for Justice, which are moral imperatives. Given the historic and ongoing impacts of colonization, and the fact that the genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people continues, it is Canada’s ethical responsibility to do more to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and gender diverse people. The horrors of Residential Schools continue to open wounds and impact victims, survivors, and families, and the 215 missing children whose bodies were found at what was once the Residential School of Kamloops are a painful reminder of this horrific legacy. In order to honour the families’ resilience and perseverance, let us decolonize our approach and follow the lead of those who are most impacted by violence and injustice.
As Ombudsman, I stand ready to contribute to policy, program and legislative reform and to advise the government on the implementation of the Calls for Justice. I recognize that efforts have been made over the last two years by First Nations and federal/provincial/territorial governments involved, and together, we have listened and learned from the many promising practices from grassroots’ organizations across the nation during the consultation sessions. Nonetheless, more can be done now to accelerate actions to implement these meaningful, culturally relevant moral imperatives. The affected families and survivors rightly deserve no less.
What we have done
At the OFOVC, we are committed to ongoing collaboration with Indigenous communities and representative groups to ensure our advice on policies, programs and legislative initiatives reflect the needs of the communities. We have reflected on our own services, and have hired Indigenous staff members to ensure that we can offer culturally safe service to survivors who contact our Office.
The OFOVC has also established an Indigenous Advisory Circle (IAC) with goals to better serve the Indigenous people of Turtle Island. The IAC provides advice, recommendations and insights to guide the OFOVC in its work to decolonize the criminal justice system, serve survivors who contact the Office in a holistic manner and reduce the high rates of victimization of Indigenous people. The members of the IAC come from a broad range of sectors and include First Nations, Inuit, Métis youth and Elders, with representation coming from all parts of the country.
The OFOVC recognizes the need to increase awareness of our services and build trust in various Indigenous communities, both urban and remote. To this end, we held two Community Forums in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in March of 2020. Using a victim-centred and trauma-informed and approach, we listened to the experiences, concerns, and ideas of survivors who have been directly affected by violence. Compared to the population size of Northwest Territories, the rates of victimization experienced by Indigenous women and girls demands urgent attention. In May of 2021, the OFOVC held a virtual Sharing Circle to hear from Yukon residents, and listen and learn from their experiences with the criminal justice system, and we will issue a report summarizing what we heard. This fall, we plan to host a Sharing Circle in Nunavut.
The OFOVC has met with the National Circle for Families and Survivors of MMIWG and with some individual members to listen to their concerns. We have provided presentations to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) to share our work and build increased trust for our services, and met with leaders from the Native Women’s Association of Canada. We continue to translate our signature brochure into various Indigenous languages and dialects so that our services can be more accessible.
Contributing to policy, program and legislative change
The OFOVC is striving to actionize the Final Report’s Calls for Justice, and has called on Federal Ministers to do the same. In order to answer the Calls for Justice, there must be legislative change, improvements to policing and the criminal justice system, pan-Indigenous initiatives, and the broadening and improvement of services for victims.
As Ombudsman, I have sent various letters in the past year seeking policy, program and legislative change. I wrote a letter to Minister Carolyn Bennett regarding the need for sustainable funding for Indigenous-led organizations, addressing several MMIWG Calls for Justice: 1.8, 3.2, 3.7, 4.3, 4.7, 4.8, 5.6 ii, 16.19, 16.29, 17.20 and 18.7. I sent an additional letter to Minister Bennett encouraging the creation of a permanent Indigenous Human Rights Ombudsperson/ Commissioner and tribunal who would report to Parliament, as I believe this would represent a tangible commitment to reconciliation and to all of the Indigenous Peoples who are seeking meaningful action from the federal government.
I believe that funding for the Family Information Liaison Units (FILU) should be permanent, as they help Indigenous families to access available information about their missing and murdered loved ones from multiple government sources and are available in every province and territory. My Office met with the national team of FILU representatives, and it was made clear that in some regions, the FILUs require additional resources to further develop outreach to families and survivors. In my letter to Minister David Lametti, I reiterated that the federal government has obligations to Indigenous peoples across the country, especially with regard to ensuring that victims and survivors of violence have culturally appropriate resources available to them in order to help them heal from their loss and victimization.
My Office has also reached out to Minister Marc Miller recommending that sustainable funding be directed to providing Indigenous women and children with shelters and culturally appropriate supports in urban centres. The creation of culturally safe shelters will accelerate the advancement of reconciliation by addressing MMIWG Calls for Justice: 4.1, 16.19, and 17.20.
In our work to change attitudes and ensure victims’ rights are upheld, on June 9th we will hold a webinar on upholding victims’ rights and uprooting systemic racism by decolonizing the criminal justice system. We must continue to educate Canadians, break down the barriers that serve no one, and create a more responsive justice system – one that recognizes both the needs of offenders and of victims and their loved ones.
What we continue to work on
The Final Report proposes several pan-Canadian initiatives aimed at addressing issues, such as racism, sexism, violence and the lingering effects of the unresolved death and disappearances of Indigenous peoples across the country. The OFOVC is committed to supporting the following initiatives in the form of written submissions with recommendations. These initiatives include:
- National strategy to prevent, investigate, punish and compensate for violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. (1.5)
- Create an independent mechanism to report on the implementation if the National Inquiry’s Calls or Justice to Parliament, annually. (1.0)
- Expand and resource legal aid programs in order to ensure Indigenous women girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people have meaningful participation in the justice system. (5.13)
- Develop an enhanced holistic approach for the provision of support to Indigenous murdered or missing persons. (5.6)
- National Child and Youth Commissioner who would also serve as a special measure to strengthen the framework of accountability for the rights of Indigenous children in Canada. (12.9)
- Develop accessible and culturally appropriate victim services to all Inuit and in all Inuit communities. (16.29)
- Create victim support services specific to Métis needs to help Métis victims and families navigate the legal system and to support their healing. (17.28)
At the OFOVC, along with the families and survivors we have met and heard from, we add our voice to the push to implement all of the Calls for Justice. As moral imperatives, the Calls for Justice must be put in place, as written. As the National Action Plan (NAP) to end violence against MMIWG is rolled out, it should outline clear commitments, with dedicated funds and timelines attached to each commitment. It is critical that allocated funds be responsive to the needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis survivors and their families, with a focus on grassroots Indigenous-led prevention and healing programs, at the community-level. There must also be appropriate oversight and accountability for NAP commitments.
Canada can take concrete and meaningful actions now to recognize the urgent need to protect all Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIAA people, who are precious mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, and granddaughters. They have the right to live in dignity, free of fear and in safety.
I would like to say Miigwech, Maarsii, Nakurmiik to all of the survivors and family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and Girls, and gender diverse people for sharing their deepest pain in order to seek justice. We stand by your side in solidarity always.