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Lack of progress on MMIWG plan ‘staggering and unacceptable,’ Ottawa told

Click to play video: 'Anger rising over Ottawa’s lack of progress on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls'
Anger rising over Ottawa’s lack of progress on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
In June 2021, the federal government promised transformative change when it unveiled its plan to address violence toward Indigenous women and girls. So what has been accomplished since then? As Dan Spector reports, many Indigenous leaders and advocates are frustrated about the lack of progress – Jun 3, 2022

When Sharon Johnson remembers her sister Sandra, she doesn’t dwell on the tragic way her beloved sibling was taken from the world.

She thinks of the times they would laugh and joke together.

“The way we used to fool around and tease each other in a playful way, being the two younger sisters in the family, those are things I really miss about her. Having someone to goof around with,” Johnson remembered, a wistful laugh in her voice.

“We were like best friends. I really miss that about her.”

This year marked 30 years since 18-year-old Sandra’s body was found on the frozen surface of the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway in the east end of Thunder bay.

Her homicide remains unsolved – one of thousands of cases involving Indigenous women who have been murdered or have disappeared in Canada.

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Johnson has been holding walks to honour her sister’s memory every year since she died in an effort to shine a light on the prevalence of violence against Indigenous women in this country – a phenomenon the National Inquiry into National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) ruled a “genocide” in its final report three years ago.

Read more: MMIWG plan calls for public education campaign, funding for survivors

But despite this ruling and ongoing pressure from both grassroots and national First Nations, Inuit and Metis organizations and communities, little headway has been made in stopping new cases of homicide and violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Ottawa is now facing withering criticism for a lack of progress and accountability over the last year on promises the federal government made as part of a national plan to address the 231 calls for justice MMIWG inquiry’s final report.

The national action plan was released last year on the second anniversary of the inquiry’s findings.

Progress on the 113-page action plan has been almost impossible to measure, according to a report compiled by a large group of partners that oversee the plan, including families of victims and survivors, distinct Indigenous groups and provincial, territorial and federal governments.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle in Canada, didn’t mince words in her assessment how little has been achieved over the last year.

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“It is with deep disappointment and frustration that I say the lack of accountability in the past year is staggering and unacceptable,” she said during an event Friday marking the three-year anniversary of the release of the MMIWG inquiry report in Gatineau, Que.

Click to play video: 'Federal strategy plan for action on MMIWG inquiry report will be ready this year, minister says'
Federal strategy plan for action on MMIWG inquiry report will be ready this year, minister says

“This is a national shame and it is also dangerous. Each day of inaction in this area leads directly to the tragic loss of human life and further violence.”

An implementation plan for the national action plan — which was promised last year by Ottawa — was never created. As such, there has been no way to measure any work completed on the many goals, both short- and long-term, that were included in the plan, according to the 2022 progress report.

This includes no specific actions, expected outcomes or consistent data to measure progress on how promised actions are working to end violence against Indigenous women.

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“Without these in place, there were no specific outcomes or timelines to measure progress,” the report says.

One of the 231 calls for justice called for national Indigenous human rights ombudsperson to be established to field complaints and offer independent evaluation of government services for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people.

Read more: ‘This is genocide’: Final MMIWG report says all Canadians have role in ending violence  

It is one of many of the inquiry’s recommendations that has been left to languish for the last three years.

“I cannot state this enough, without the political will to create transformative change, this genocide will continue. The government must be accountable for its responsibility for the 231 calls for justice. They are legal imperatives and they are not optional,” Anderson-Pyrz said.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller acknowledged Ottawa has not done enough to address the MMIWG inquiry’s findings and that this has contributed to ongoing violence and systemic racism against Indigenous women and girls.

“As a country we continue to fail Indigenous women, girls and 2SLBGTQIA+ people as part of this national tragedy,” he said.

Miller pledged Friday to move on the calls for an ombudsperson over the next year, saying there is “no excuse” as to why this hasn’t been done yet.

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“It can’t be the government of Canada giving its own grades on this – good, bad or otherwise. We need to have an ombudsperson that can actually take stock, has the power to look at these things and say, ‘Government of Canada, you need to do better.'”

The 2022 progress report calls for an implementation plan to be developed immediately that would include an accountability structure to measure results and a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of all governments and Indigenous organizations in meeting their commitments.

Click to play video: 'The Native Women’s Association of Canada points to shortfalls in federal action plan for MMIWG'
The Native Women’s Association of Canada points to shortfalls in federal action plan for MMIWG

The lack of measurable goals and specific funding commitments in the national action plan was flagged as a concern last year by a number of Indigenous women’s groups and advocates when the document was first released.

On Friday, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) released its own assessment the federal government’s work on the action plan, saying Ottawa has made little progress in the past year.

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There have been funding commitments, but little has been done to directly support survivors and families, said an analysis released Friday by the group.

The association was one of the groups working with Ottawa on the plan, but walked away saying the exercise was fundamentally flawed and politically motivated.

Over the last year, NWAC tracked the commitments made by the government in its plan and assessed the implementation of them.

While some progress has been made over the past 12 months on some of actions, little or none has been made on others, the organization says.

“The national action plan, as it was drafted, was actually a recipe for inaction, and the people represented by our organization are paying the price,” said CEO Lynne Groulx.

Read more: Here’s the 1st steps Canada plans to take in light of the MMIWG inquiry

The federal government committed to provide funding or enhance existing funding in four areas: culture, health and wellness, human safety and security and justice.

Ottawa also released its own progress report Friday. It says there has been progress in each of the areas, but acknowledges there is more work ahead.

It says it supported more than 410 Indigenous language and culture projects from First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups serving urban Indigenous populations.

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Nineteen Indigenous organizations received money for projects and services that support the healing of families and survivors.

Work still needs to be done in several areas, including oversight and accountability, programs for Indigenous youth and public awareness campaigns that honour Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ people, the progress report says.

There is a disconnect between what is being done at the federal level and how that is helping grassroots efforts, said Groulx.

Read more: ‘Half of a document’: Advocates say long-awaited federal MMIWG action plan falls short

Johnson echoed these concerns, but said this won’t stop her from continuing to give talks about her sister and try to do what she can to make things safer for other Indigenous women and girls – especially her grandnieces.

“I worry about them,” she said.

“I want the youth and young women to feel empowered, however that looks. Because in our communities, we’re losing so many young people to drugs and violence – and it’s all connected.”

— With files from The Canadian Press.

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