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Letter addressed to Minister Bennett regarding the creation of a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson

 

March 31, 2021


The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, M.D., P.C., M.P. 
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0H4


RE: Creation of a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson

 

Dear Minister Bennett,

 

Thank you for meeting with me on 5 March 2021. As a follow up to our discussions, I am writing to you as Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime1 to express my support for Recommendation 1.72 from Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which calls for the establishment of a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson, and a National Indigenous and Human Rights Tribunal.

We have met with many Indigenous partners, stakeholders and knowledge keepers who have expressed their desire to have this office established sooner than later. The OFOVC has also heard from Indigenous victims, survivors, and family members that they need an Ombudsperson dedicated to the issues they are experiencing. There is a clear requirement to have an Office and tribunal dedicated to Indigenous Peoples to ensure their rights are respected and to create a safe place to express their issues and concerns.

As legal imperatives, the Calls for Justice must be put in place, as written. The importance of a permanent entity to provide neutral, independent oversight of Indigenous human rights complaints, cannot be overstated. In my view, it is especially important in the context of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, where oppression is weaved into every First Nations, Métis and Inuit community. The paths and scars of genocide are ever present, along with toxicity and a dangerous level of violence. Women cannot run from their communities, as no resources are available to protect them, yet they are not safe in their homes because the violence they experience is silenced. Women who speak their truth unconditionally may face exile from their communities. Those who do choose to run are at risk of becoming missing or being murdered. We have heard that many Indigenous women who come forward to report violence such as sexual exploitation and trafficking are criminalized themselves. Gender-based violence is an ongoing human rights violation experienced by Indigenous women in their communities and in urban centres. A national body is needed to oversee safety for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, including their access to safe/affordable housing, medical care and assistance, legal advice and assistance, justice system navigation, mental health and other psychosocial supports to protect them where abuse, intimate partner and family violence is present.

I believe an Indigenous Human Rights Ombudsperson or Commissioner should be created as an Officer of Parliament3, who would be responsible directly to Parliament rather than to the government or a federal minister. This emphasizes their independence from the government of the day. They carry out duties assigned by statute and report to one or both chambers of Parliament. Another category for consideration would be an Agent of Parliament, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Public Service Commission, which have a degree of independence and perform a similar “watchdog” function.

Given the historic and ongoing impacts of colonization, genocide and documented systemic racism, abuse and victimization of Indigenous Peoples across government at all levels, an Indigenous Human Rights Ombudsperson only strengthens our democracy. This Office can work to address and resolve individual complaints, but also issue reports and make public recommendations to bring systemic issues and government maladministration to light. Federalism should not be a reason to not move forward with such an Office, as Ombudspeople are often mandated to address emerging and systemic issues across large intersecting systems they oversee.  

I therefore recommend the creation of a permanent Indigenous Human Rights Ombudsperson/Commissioner and tribunal, reporting to Parliament, as a tangible commitment to Reconciliation and to all of the Indigenous Peoples who are seeking a meaningful action from the federal government. A public timeline for the creation of this Office should also be released. Itis imperative that this Office be created by statute and not be linked to a federal department to ensure that it functions in a truly autonomous, independent manner.

I offer my support towards the achievement of this goal in my capacity as Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime and remain available to discuss this matter with you further.

 

Sincerely,

 

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Cc        The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., M.P., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

 

 


1 The mandate of the OFOVC is to help ensure that the rights of victims and survivors of crime are respected and that the federal government meets its obligations to victims. This includes ensuring that victims and their families have access to federal programs and services specifically designed for their support. In addition to our ongoing efforts to help individual victims, we also have a responsibility to identify and bring forward emerging and systemic issues that impact negatively on victims of crime at the federal level. In doing so, we work closely with victim service providers and a host of other government and non-government stakeholders on our common goal of building a justice system that better serves everyone in Canada.

2 1.7 - We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, to establish a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson, with authority in all jurisdictions, and to establish a National Indigenous and Human Rights Tribunal. The ombudsperson and tribunal must be independent of governments and have the authority to receive complaints from Indigenous individuals as well as Indigenous communities in relation to Indigenous and human rights violations, and to conduct thorough and independent evaluations of government services for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people and communities to determine compliance with human and Indigenous rights laws. The ombudsperson and the tribunal must be given sufficient resources to fulfill their mandates and must be permanent.

3 There are nine officers of Parliament: 1) the Auditor General of Canada; 2) the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada; 3) the Commissioner of Official Languages; 4) the Information Commissioner of Canada; 5) the Privacy Commissioner of Canada; 6) the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner; 7) the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada; 8) the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada; and 9) the Parliamentary Budget Officer.