After three years, thousands of testimonies and countless delays, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) was released Monday.
The report, launched in 2016 after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office, has more than 200 recommendations, calling on the federal government to develop an effective response to human trafficking cases, implement changes to the child welfare system and create a national action plan to ensure equitable access to employment, housing and education.
The 1,200-page report, which describes how Indigenous women are murdered at far greater rates than non-Indigenous women, blames the violence on long-standing discrimination against Indigenous people and Canada’s failure to protect them.
Here are five key takeaways from the much-anticipated final report.
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A form of genocide
The report calls violence against First Nations, Métis and Inuit women and girls a form of “genocide” and a crisis “centuries in the making.”
Canada’s colonization has jeopardized Indigenous women’s right to culture, health and security with policies like the Indian Act, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and forced sterilization, the report stated.
“Colonial policies in Canada aimed to obliterate the various Indigenous nations who occupied the land at the time and posed a real threat to the existence of Indigenous communities,” the report said.
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For example, Indian residential schools in the 1800s forcibly removed children from their families. The children then faced starvation, deliberate infectious diseases, beating, torture and rape.
In the early 1900s, Canadian doctors subjected Indigenous children to inhumane medical experiments at the residential schools, including purposefully exposing healthy children to kids infected with tuberculosis.
These examples helped create conditions for the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, such as increased violence, death and suicide in Indigenous populations, the report stated.
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“This colonialism, this discrimination and this genocide explains the high rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA people,” Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, said at a ceremony held to present the report.
The 2SLGBTQQIA group refers to two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people.
Change to the Criminal Code
The inquiry calls on Canada’s Criminal Code to consider violence against indigenous women and girls as an aggravating factor at sentencing and include cases where there “is a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse” as first-degree murder.
The report cited the case of Ontario trucker Bradley Barton, who was accused of killing Cindy Gladue, who bled to death in an Edmonton motel room in 2011 after what the accused said were consensual sexual acts.
Barton said he hired Gladue for two nights of sex and claimed the severe injury to her vaginal wall that caused her death was an accident during rough but consensual activity.
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Barton was found not guilty by a jury that repeatedly heard references to Gladue as a “prostitute” and a “native.”
The report also says there should be a review of the use of the “Gladue principle” in cases involving the deaths of Indigenous women and girls.
This is a ruling in the Criminal Code that says when sentencing Indigenous offenders, judges must take into consideration the decades of colonial oppression and cultural factors they face, such as effects of the residential school system and experience in the child welfare and adoption system.
But the report says the Gladue principles are not consistent between provinces, there are no established “standards” and they are largely ignored in the judicial system.
“Mandatory minimum sentences are especially harsh for Indigenous women, girls as Gladue principles for sentencing cannot be applied. This leads to higher incarceration rates,” the report stated.
Human trafficking and sexual exploitation
RCMP statistics from 2016 show that while Indigenous women represented only four per cent of the Canadian population, they comprised nearly 50 per cent of victims of human trafficking. Of those, nearly one-quarter were under the age of 18, the report stated,
The national inquiry heard several stories about women and girls in the sex industry who experienced sexual exploitation, violence and human trafficking. Many others spoke about daughters, mothers and sisters who were murdered as a result of sex trafficking.
The inquiry looked into key recruitment areas, including airports and bus stations, where “traffickers often know someone in the community who informs them about the plans of the girls moving to the city. Upon their arrival at the airport, traffickers lure the girls under the pretext of providing a place to stay.”
Other recruitment areas for sex trafficking included schools, the boyfriend method (where a trafficker approaches a woman as a suitor rather than as a trafficker), hitchhiking and “virtually any place that is away from home where victims can be isolated,” the report states.
The inquiry called on the government to fund and support programs for Indigenous children and youth to teach them how to respond to a threat and identity exploitation.
National Indigenous human rights tribunal
The report called on the government to create 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 … human rights violations,” the report stated.
It said the ombudsperson and tribunal must be given sufficient resources to fulfil these tasks.
The report highlights several cases of police failure when it comes to investigating cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as well as protecting the community.
“Often, Indigenous people are treated as perpetrators and offenders when they need the protection of the police. This is reinforced by the practice of racial profiling,” the report stated.
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The report calls for Indigenous communities to have their own police services through the First Nations Policing Program.
However, this program is “chronically underfunded and under-resourced,” the report said, leading to burnout of officers and heightened tensions within the community, resulting in an inability to properly respond and investigate violence against Indigenous women.
The report said Indigenous policing must be funded equally with all other non-Indigenous police services across the country.