Aboriginal groups say UN probe in works

By: Mia Rabson

Posted: December 14, 2011

Winnipeg Free Press

Feds deny decision made on inquiry into violence

OTTAWA -- Two national women's groups say the United Nations will launch an inquiry into the high rate of violence plaguing aboriginal women in Canada.

The Native Women's Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action said Tuesday the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women had listened to their pleas to investigate after repeated attempts to get Canada to hold a public inquiry failed.

"We are delighted," said Sharon McIvor, a member of the human rights committee of the Feminist Alliance for International Action.

However, the federal government denies any inquiry is underway.

"I understand from Foreign Affairs that two civil society groups have made a request to a United Nations committee. The committee is looking into it and will be discussing it in February," Rona Ambrose, minister for the status of women said Tuesday.

A UN spokesman did not respond to a request to confirm the inquiry. However, McIvor said she has it on good authority the groups' information is correct.

"We have from a very good source that there is going to be an inquiry," she said.

A native women's association project known as Sisters in Spirit created a database of more than 500 women who have gone missing or been slain in Canada during the last 40 years. The association says aboriginal women in Canada are 3.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than non-aboriginal women and five times more likely to be slain. The database sparked a number of policy changes, including improvements by police on how they investigate missing aboriginal women.

When Sisters in Spirit funding expired in 2010, Ottawa responded with a $10-million initiative, which included new programs to combat risky behaviour, violence against women on reserves and a new RCMP missing persons information centre.

On Monday, a report from the House of Commons committee on the status of women offered nine recommendations, including removing economic barriers on reserves and support services for families of slain and missing women. The committee said more aboriginal women should be trained to deliver anti-violence programs if funds become available.

New Democrats and Liberals decried the report as a washout and not descriptive of the dozens of meetings and testimony of more than 100 witnesses.

McIvor called the report weak.

"We're talking about a crisis situation and they're talking about if funds become available then we'll act," she said.

The UN inquiry would be launched under a protocol to end discrimination against women, which Canada ratified in 2002. Under the protocol, the UN committee investigates complaints and will initiate an inquiry if allegations of grave and systemic violations of women's rights have merit.

The first step is to invite the government of the country in question to participate.

NDP aboriginal affairs critic Linda Duncan believes such a request formed the contents of the letter Ambrose referred to in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Ambrose said the government's response to the UN letter will include making the UN aware of the strategy on missing and murdered women.

"Through that strategy, we have not only created a new RCMP centre for missing persons, but a national website for public tips to help locate missing women. Included in that is, of course, community support."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2011 A8