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Canada’s failure to effectively address murder and disappearance of Aboriginal women ‘grave rights violation’ - UN experts

GENEVA (6 March 2015) – Canada has committed a “grave violation” of the rights of Aboriginal women by failing to promptly and thoroughly investigate the high levels of violence they suffer, including disappearances and murders*, a UN expert committee has found.

In a report published today, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) says that the Canadian police and justice system have failed to effectively protect Aboriginal women, hold offenders to account, and ensure that victims get redress.

“Aboriginal women and girls are more likely to be victims of violence than men or non-Aboriginal women, and they are more likely to die as a result. Yet, despite the seriousness of the situation, the Canadian State has not sufficiently implemented measures to ensure that cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women are effectively investigated and prosecuted,” said CEDAW members Niklas Bruun and Barbara Bailey.

Mr. Bruun and Ms. Bailey visited Canada in 2013 to conduct a confidential inquiry into allegations by Canadian NGOs that Aboriginal women in Canada faced grave and systematic violations of their rights. At all stages of the proceedings, the Committee received the full co-operation of the Canadian Government.

In their report, the Committee concludes that there has been a grave violation of rights under the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Aboriginal women and their families have experienced serious acts of violence that have significantly affected the right to life and personal security; the right to physical and mental integrity; and their health. Canada has thereby violated a number of articles of the Convention. These include the obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women; the right to equal protection before the law and to an effective remedy; the obligation on States to combat and eliminate harmful stereotypes; and the right of Aboriginal women to enjoy adequate living conditions on and off reserves.

“The violence inflicted on Aboriginal women is often rooted in the deep socio-economic inequalities and discrimination their communities face and which can be traced back to the period of colonisation,” said Mr. Bruun and Ms. Bailey.

“During the inquiry, NGOs indicated to us that young Aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die of violence. Aboriginal women and girls also experience high levels of sexual abuse and violence in their own families and communities, as well as within wider society.”

CEDAW has made 38 recommendations for action, including the establishment of an independent national inquiry into the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, and the development of a national plan of action to address all forms of violence against Aboriginal women.

Full report:   http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/CAN/CEDAW_C_OP-8_CAN_1_7643_E.pdf

Canada has disagreed with CEDAW’s finding that there have been grave violations of rights. It has, however, accepted 34 of the Committee’s recommendations, although not the call for a national inquiry and plan of action.
Canada’s observations: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/CAN/CEDAW_C_OP-8_CAN_2_7644_E.pdf

“We welcome Canada’s comments indicating that they have already taken a number of steps to address the issue of murdered and disappeared Aboriginal women and girls. We urge the State to fully implement all of our recommendations,” said Mr. Bruun and Ms. Bailey.      

CEDAW is composed of 23 independent human rights experts and oversees implementation of the Convention by States that have ratified it.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)


BACKGROUND:

Ms. Bailey and Mr. Bruun visited Canada from 9-13 September 2013. Their itinerary included Ottawa, Vancouver, Prince George, Winnipeg and Whitehorse, and they held meetings with, among others, representatives of federal, provincial/territorial and local authorities, MPs, representatives of the Aboriginal community and women’s rights organisations, and 40 relatives of missing and murdered women.
*According to data collected by NGOs, between the 1960s and 2010, 582 Aboriginal women and girls went missing or were murdered in Canada. Since 2010, further information on approximately 80 additional cases up to September 2013. NGOs believe that the actual number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women far exceeds these documented cases.

The Committee’s confidential inquiry took place under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention, which Canada ratified in 2002. This gives the Committee the mandate to conduct inquiries into allegations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights. In 2011, the Committee received information from Canadian NGOs relating to the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women in Canada and the police response. Having ascertained the reliability of the information, the Committee designated two members to undertake the inquiry and adopted the inquiry report.

Tolearn more about the Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/cedaw/pages/cedawindex.aspx