The federal government is committing to funding and co-developing targeted initiatives to address many systemic barriers identified by a national inquiry into Indigenous women who have disappeared or been killed in Canada.
As part of today’s release of the action plan on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, a “federal pathway” document outlines Ottawa’s planned steps to address the inquiry’s sweeping 231 calls to justice.
It includes general commitments to provide funding, or enhance existing funding, toward a number of programs and initiatives in four thematic areas: culture, health and wellness, human safety and security and justice.
As part of its justice commitments, Ottawa says it will re-establish the Law Commission of Canada — an independent federal agency to advise Parliament on how to modernize and improve Canada’s laws, de-funded by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2006.
The federal government is also pledging to invest in research and data collection to better understand the role of different social systems in preventing Indigenous involvement with the criminal justice system.
This work will include establishing national standards for missing persons reports and improving the collection and use of disaggregated data to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous victims, survivors and offenders in the criminal justice system as well as their disproportionately frequent experiences with police, courts and prisons, as compared to the non-Indigenous population.
A review of resources at the Correctional Service of Canada’s healing lodge for Indigenous women is also promised, to identify needs there to effectively address rehabilitation and intervention.
In its commitments to address racism and barriers to care in the health system, Ottawa proposes to support the advancement of “Joyce’s principle” — an initiative named for Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven children who died at a Quebec hospital after suffering degrading insults from hospital staff.
Ottawa also says it will enhance funding for community-based organizations that provide sexual and reproductive health care information and services to vulnerable populations. This work will include the establishment of a new National Institute for Women’s Health Research.
To address safety and security concerns for Indigenous women — a major theme of the national inquiry — the government says a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the impacts of temporary work camps located in proximity to Indigenous communities is needed, although a such a strategy is not promised.
Promised federal efforts will instead be aimed at co-developing a variety of activities aimed at mitigating the impacts of these work camps and worker influxes.
Ottawa will also increase funding for initiatives to stop human trafficking, including support for at-risk populations and survivors.
To preserve and support Indigenous culture — identified in by the inquiry commissioners as a key measure to build community, identity and protection for Indigenous women and girls — Ottawa is promising support for initiatives such as language and culture camps, mentor-apprentice programs and Indigenous language resources and documentation.
The investments and work undertaken by Ottawa will be done in collaboration with detailed plans also being released today by a host of partners across Canada that have been working on plans to address the inquiry’s 231 recommendations.
Many of the initiatives proposed are general in nature and none have any dollar figures attached, citing the need to co-develop these actions with Indigenous communities.
But the government says it will establish performance indicators and prepare annual reports to measure progress starting next fiscal year.
The overall plan, branded as the long-promised “national action plan,” is something of a preliminary, but comprehensive, framework developed by a large group of partners, including the families of victims and survivors, each of Canada’s distinct Indigenous groups as well as provincial, territorial and federal governments.
The document acknowledges that it is mainly laying the foundation for more detailed and costed steps to come at a later date.
But it does include seven immediate next steps that all partners have agreed to prioritize to ensure the document becomes a foundation for a more comprehensive plan to address the detailed recommendations of the inquiry.
Funding for support services for survivors and family members is identified as the first immediate step as well as “adequate funding” to ensure the survivors and families can remain involved to provide insight and input into the national action plan’s next steps.
An oversight body will also be established to represent the interests of families, survivors and Indigenous communities. It will be empowered to investigate and address any complaints of violation of rights or other concerns as the work continues.
A public education campaign on the lived experiences of Indigenous people will also be created, aimed at challenging the acceptance and normalization of violence against First Nations women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. This will include trauma-informed training for those who work with Indigenous people on topics such as history, culture, anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia and transphobia.
A more in-depth implementation strategy for the plan will be developed later, with more specific information and additional medium and long-term priorities that all involved say they hope will lead to systemic change.
The plan — released today in a virtual ceremony — does not include any dollar figures or funding commitments, but it does say funding, timelines and identifying who will be responsible for making each commitment happen will be among the next steps.
A Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls table will be struck to co-ordinate intergovernmental collaboration, and a data strategy is also already being developed to ensure more accurate and culturally sensitive data is available for decision-makers.
The data collected as part of this work will be protected by Indigenous data sovereignty to ensure First Nations, Metis and Inuit remain in control of and the stewards of their own information.
The draft document notes that even though this preliminary national action plan has been co-developed by a number of different partners, distinct plans or strategies developed individually by these partners — such as provinces or one particular Indigenous group — may not always be interconnected.
This means the priorities of the “core working group” members “may or may not concur with contributing partners’ plans or strategies in part or in whole,” the document states.
Earlier this week, the Native Women’s Association of Canada said it had walked away from working on this plan, citing a “fundamentally flawed” and politically motivated process to draft it.
Instead, NWAC released its own action plan, which, unlike the one being released today, has targeted measures with reporting mechanisms and costs attached.
On Tuesday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett acknowledged the work of the Native Women’s Association as instrumental in pushing for the national inquiry to come to fruition.
“All of the work that they have done, we’re very grateful for that,” Bennett said.
Ultimately, she said the core group that was struck to lead the work has done an “extraordinary” job and will produce a plan that she says will be the “blueprint forward to move into that implementation phase with all the provinces and territories and all the distinctions-based governments and organizations.”