Role of the Organization of American States in Canadian Human Rights: Part 2 - LawNow Magazine

Role of the Organization of American States in Canadian Human Rights: Part 2

Human Rights Law ColumnThis is a continuation of an earlier column about the Report on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women in British Columbia, Canada which was issued in December 2014 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) of the Organization of American States.

The Report concludes with a series of recommendations to Canada [emphasis added]:

  1. The IACHR makes the following recommendations, based on its close analysis of the situation of missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia. The IACHR notes the willingness and openness of the Canadian State, at both the federal and provincial levels, to discuss the situation, its causes, and how it can be further addressed. The IACHR also recognizes the steps already taken by the Canadian State, at both the federal and provincial levels, to address some of the particular problems and challenges that indigenous women and girls in Canada, and British Columbia specifically, must confront, a number of which have been identified in this report.
  1. The disappearances and murders of indigenous women in Canada are part of a broader pattern of violence and discrimination against indigenous women in Canada. The fact that indigenous women in Canada experience institutional and structural inequalities resulting from entrenched historical discrimination and inequality is acknowledged by the Government of Canada and by civil society organizations. There is also agreement on certain root causes of the high levels of violence against indigenous women and the existing vulnerabilities that make indigenous women more susceptible to violence.
  1. Addressing violence against women is not sufficient unless the underlying factors of discrimination that originate and exacerbate the violence are also comprehensively addressed. The IACHR stresses the importance of applying a comprehensive holistic approach to violence against indigenous women. This means addressing the past and present institutional and structural inequalities confronted by indigenous women in Canada. This includes the dispossession of indigenous lands, as well as historical laws and policies that negatively affected indigenous people, the consequences of which continue to prevent their full enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. This in turn entails addressing the persistence of longstanding social and economic marginalization through effective measures to combat poverty, improve education and employment, guarantee adequate housing and address the disproportionate application of criminal law against indigenous people. These measures must incorporate the provision of information and assistance to ensure that indigenous women have effective access to legal remedies in relation to custody matters. Specifically regarding Prince George, the IACHR urges the Canadian State to immediately provide a safe public transport option along Highway 16.
  1. The IACHR recognizes the existence of a wide variety of initiatives to address the situation of violence against indigenous women in Canada. However, based on the information received and analyzed, the IACHR strongly urges the need for better coordination among the different levels and sectors of government. The IACHR stresses that both federal and provincial governments are responsible for the legal status and conditions of indigenous women and girls and their communities.
  1. Initiatives, programs and policies related to indigenous women should be tailored to their needs and concerns, including whether they are living on reserve or off reserve. Their consultation is crucial for the success of any initiative, especially given the context of historical and structural discrimination. In this regard, Canada should adopt measures to promote the active participation of indigenous women in the design and implementation of initiatives, programs and policies at all levels of government that are directed to indigenous women, as well as those that pertain to indigenous peoples more broadly. The selection of indigenous women to participate in these initiatives should be made in consultation with recognized associations of indigenous peoples and of indigenous women and their leadership.
  1. The IACHR strongly supports the creation of a national-level action plan or a nation-wide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, in order to better understand and address the problem through integral approaches. The IACHR considers that there is much more to understand and to acknowledge in relation to the missing and murdered indigenous women. This initiative must be organized in consultation with indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women, at all stages from conception, to establishing terms of reference, implementation and evaluation.
  1. The IACHR recommends the development of data collection systems that collect accurate statistics on missing and murdered indigenous women, by consistently capturing the race of the victim or missing person. Capturing accurate data is the basis for moving forward in any initiative.
  1. The IACHR recommends that the State implement a policy aimed at ensuring an appropriate response when a report of a missing person, in particular an indigenous women, is filed.
  1. The IACHR considers that full compliance with the already established recommendations of the Oppal report is necessary and will bring about important advances. Drawing from those recommendations, the IACHR stresses the importance of appointing a new Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Safety and Security of Vulnerable Women as soon as possible. Canada should ensure that the different policing services in BC understand their jurisdiction and responsibilities when conflicts of policing jurisdiction arise. Canada should also establish or strengthen accountability mechanisms – preferably through independent bodies – for officials handling investigations and prosecutions, and should provide access to legal aid and support services to the families of missing or murdered indigenous women, with the families being able to freely choose their own representative.
  1. The IACHR also recommends that police officers, including both RCMP and Vancouver Police, and public sector functionaries, such as prosecutors, judges and court personnel, receive mandatory and ongoing training in the causes and consequences of gender-based violence in general and violence against indigenous women in particular. This includes training on the police duty to protect indigenous women from violence.
  1. Regarding the ongoing investigations of missing and murdered women, the IACHR stresses the importance of the principle of due diligence. In this regard, the State should:
  • Give special judicial protection and guarantees to family members and relatives, especially by improving mechanisms to ensure that such parties have access to information about the development of the investigation and about their rights in any legal proceedings. Effective access by indigenous people to such protection is especially important given the context of historical and structural discrimination.
  • Guarantee that family members or other affected parties of missing and murdered indigenous women can obtain legal aid that is effective and with which these parties feel comfortable, again taking into account the context of discrimination and marginalization.
  • Ensure adequate oversight of officials responsible for responding to and investigating crimes of violence against women, and ensure that administrative, disciplinary or criminal measures are available to hold such officials accountable.
  • Provide indigenous women and their relatives who are seeking assistance from officials with an available and effective procedure to file complaints in the case of noncompliance by such officials with their duties under the law, and information on how to initiate and pursue that procedure.
  • Provide integral social and support services to all family members of missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as to indigenous women who want to remove themselves from an abusive situation.
  • Further develop the steps taken to provide reparations to families of missing and murdered indigenous women in cases where the State has failed to exercise due diligence.
  1. In light of the State’s commitment to improve the rights and circumstances of indigenous women, the IACHR hopes that the conclusions and recommendations offered in this report may assist the State in putting its commitment into practice.

The Report includes an extensive section with Canada’s response to the concerns raised by the IACHR (Chapter 5). While there has been some reluctance in Canada to launch an inquiry into the situation, perhaps the Report’s international focus on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women will provide a fresh impetus for effective government responses. The IACHR has provided an extremely useful compilation of data that addresses the issues and responses. Canada should be grateful for the extensive work performed by the OAS.



Linda McKay-Panos
Linda McKay-Panos, BEd, JD, LLM, is the Executive Director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre in Calgary, Alberta.

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