Aboriginal leaders and victims’ family members were heartened by news that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is looking into the unsolved murders and disappearances of more than 700 women, although they noted too that a nation such as Canada should not have required outside intervention.
“It’s shameful that we need an external agency to get the Canadian government’s attention,” said Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee in a statement from the Union of Ontario Indians on December 15. “Our own citizens have been asking for months now. We needed action a long time ago.”
Likewise the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs welcomed the attention, which Rona Ambrose, Canada’s minister on the status of women, denied was an outright inquiry. She said merely that her office had received a letter from the U.N. agency and was responding.
“The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs welcomes the inquiry undertaken by the CEDAW into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls and believes it will finally hold the Canadian government to account on the international stage,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, in a statement.
“To truly address and eliminate the tragic and devastating issues of violence against indigenous women and girls, the Harper government must be compelled and forced to examine the intersecting and deeply-rooted factors of poverty, colonialism, and systemic racism,” he said of the administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “We hope that the Harper government will not try to block the inquiry, as we believe an open and inclusive inquiry can be helpful in addressing this national tragedy.”
He called it a “fundamental and universal human rights issue” rather than solely a women’s issue.
In this, Canada is akin to Mexico, which for years let the killings and disappearances in Ciudad Juarez go uninvestigated, until the U.N. launched an inquiry and the matter got international attention from human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Canada has now become the second country to fall under U.N. scrutiny for the same issue.
Ernie Crey, the brother of a possible victim of serial killer Robert Pickton, also applauded the move. His younger sister, Dawn Crey, disappeared out of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver in November 2000. Although traces of her DNA were found on Pickton’s pig farm, the convicted serial killer was not charged in her death. Hearings are under way to determine why it took authorities so long to apprehend Pickton—he killed freely for years before being charged—but they only deal with his few dozen potential victims, not with the legions of other women who have gone missing.
“You would think both Ottawa and its national police force, the RCMP, would have taken action on these deaths and disappearances years ago,” Ernie Crey said on December 13, according to The Vancouver Sun. “Now the inquiry has been announced, Canada will be expected to cooperate with the committee’s investigation. Canada failed to take any action, so I am not surprised the U.N., through its Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, stepped to the plate.”
Read more coverage of this issue from Indian Country Today Media Network.