Report of the inquiry concerning Canada of the CEDAW Committee
Canada, Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Report of the inquiry concerning Canada of the CEDAW Committee



Intersectional DiscriminationEthnicity

Related standards:

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 5


Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 5

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: (a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women; (b) To ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children, it being understood that the interest of the children is the primordial consideration in all cases.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 15


Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 15

1. States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law. 2. States Parties shall accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity. In particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals. 3. States Parties agree that all contracts and all other private instruments of any kind with a legal effect which is directed at restricting the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void. 4. States Parties shall accord to men and women the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile.
Convention on the elimination of all forms of discriminaation against women. Article 14


Convention on the elimination of all forms of discriminaation against women. Article 14

1. States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the application of the provisions of the present Convention to women in rural areas.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:

(a) To participate in the elaboration and implementation of development planning at all levels;

(b) To have access to adequate health care facilities, including information, counselling and services in family planning; 

(c) To benefit directly from social security programmes;

(d) To obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including that relating to functional literacy, as well as, inter alia, the benefit of all community and extension services, in order to increase their technical proficiency;

(e) To organize self-help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self employment;

(f) To participate in all community activities;

(g) To have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes;

(h) To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.


In 2011, the CEDAW Committee received, through the inquiry procedure of the CEDAW Optional Protocol, reliable reports from NGO’s denouncing extremely high levels of violence against aboriginal women and girls in Canada. This procedure allows individuals or groups to make complaints to the Committee, which may then investigate substantive claims of “grave or systematic abuses” and issue recommendations to resolve structural weaknesses that lead to violations of the rights contained in the Convention. 

This inquiry represents a significant articulation of the rights protected under the Convention. The report considers substantive social and economic rights as being crucial to elimination of violence against women and, therefore, posits an expansive obligation of States to promote gender equality. The Committee also points out the State’s responsibility to correct negative stereotypes against aboriginal communities and socioeconomic disadvantages that are a legacy of colonialization, which could be applied to many other societies in which indigenous populations have suffered from similar instances of discrimination.

The report is also significant because it puts a heightened burden on the State Party to protect women and girls, the expectation being that efforts should increase commensurate with the level of risk faced by them, and that one size fits all policies are not enough when dealing with women’s human rights and multiple forms of discrimination.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (hereafter “CEDAW Committee”) finds that Canada failed to protect aboriginal women and girls from disappearance and murder. The CEDAW Committee determined that measures taken by Canada were insufficient and inadequate.

In January and September 2011, the Committee received letters from two organizations requesting the Committee to initiate an inquiry under article 8 of the CEDAW protocol in relations to alleged grave and systematic violations by Canadá, particularly because “aboriginal women and girls experience extremely high levels of violence in Canada, as shown by the high numbers of disappearances and murders of aboriginal women…”.

On October 2011, at its fiftieth session the Committee examined the information submitted and considered it was reliable and indicative of grave or systematic violations of the rights set forth in the Convention. Between February and March 2012, in the next session, the Committee submitted to Canada the information it had received from the organizations.

On June 2012 Canada acknowledged the nature of the allegations but stated that measure had been taken and that there were no evidences of actions or omissions by the state that constituted grave and systematic violations of the rights contained in the Convention.

On July 2012, the Committee decided to establish and conduct an inquiry and requested consent to visit the territory. In April 2013, after three follow-up letters from the Committee, the State Party consented. In July 2013, Committee members met with federal, regional, and local government officials along with women’s organizations and representatives of Aboriginal communities including victims and their families.  

It is worth noting two sections of the report. The first one is the factual findings, which are based on the information received from different sources consulted before, during and after the country visit. The second one is the legal assessment, which evaluates the findings to determine whether there are grave or systematic violations of the Convention.

Factual Findings

The Committee expresses concern for the disproportionately high levels of violence experienced by aboriginal women compared to aboriginal men and non-aboriginal women. Despite the existence of different inquiries and studies from government and non-governmental entities, the State Party has failed to implement recommendations to address the situation.

According to the Committee, preventative measures must address the socio-economic marginalization of aboriginal women and girls, including alleviating poverty and providing access to adequate housing and education initiatives. Failure to address root causes of aboriginal women’s vulnerabilities increases their exposure to violence and allows discrimination to continue unabated. Additionally, lasting consequences of patriarchal colonial structures permits violence against women to be treated with impunity, further traumatizing families and elevating distrust of the authorities by the aboriginal community. Moreover, with knowledge of aboriginal women and girl’s heightened vulnerability to prostitution and trafficking, the State fails to specifically target resources to prevent and protect these women from the associated risks of all forms of violence.

The Committee determines that police protocols are ineffective in ensuring adequate investigation of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Law enforcement also lacks awareness of barriers inhibiting aboriginal women’s access to the justice system. Entrenched stereotyping discourages aboriginal women and girls from seeking help and limits the effectiveness of law enforcement in resolving cases. Access to justice is further impeded by fragmented inter-jurisdictional communication and ineffective data collection, often missing crucial demographic information, which obscures the gravity of the problem and impedes the development of an effective strategy. Victim’s services are also inadequate and reparation inaccessible because court costs prevent victims and their families from bringing claims forward.

The Committee concludes that comprehensive efforts must be made by the State Party to address the socio-economic causes of violence, while also addressing stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination against aboriginal women and girls, to effectively ensure the protection of women’s rights guaranteed under the Convention.

Legal Assessment

The primary issue before the Committee was whether the State Party fulfilled its direct obligations under the Convention to protect aboriginal women and girls, complying with the due diligence obligation to prevent, protect from, investigate and punish gender violence and provide reparations to the victims. The Committee was especially interested in determining whether the State systematically strengthened its institutional response to be commensurate with vulnerabilities, both reported and acknowledged by the State Party, and the gravity of harm faced by aboriginal women and girls. 

The Committee finds that the State Party violated Article 3 of the CEDAW by failing to provide the realization of economic, social, political and cultural rights of aboriginal women and girls to enable them to escape violence. Thus, aboriginal women are more vulnerable to violence and are left unprotected from it by the State. Upon experiencing violence, they have been denied adequate remedies from the justice system.

The State Party also breached Article 14(1) for not sufficiently accounting for the particular challenges faced by aboriginal women living in rural environments. The different forms of violence experienced by them constitute multiple forms of discrimination based on sex, gender and aboriginal identity, considering also that the intersectional discrimination is exacerbated by factors such as their living in a rural environment because of their geographical isolation.

Further, the State Party violated Article 2(f) and Article 5(a) because it did not take all appropriate measures to eliminate prejudices and gender stereotyping that promote and perpetuate discrimination against women.

The Committee finds the State Party breached its obligation under Article 2(c-e) and 15 failing to apply the legislative framework, to implement the recommendations, to ensure that its agents provide effective protection and conduct effective investigations and prosecutions and to ensure that they are protected against discriminations committed by public institutions.

The Committee finds that the violations reach the threshold of gravity taking into account the negative consequences of act of violence on aboriginal women’s right to life, personal security, physical and mental integrity and health and finds the violations of Articles 2, 3, 5, 14 and 15.

Because of that, the Committee makes 38 recommendations to combat violence against aboriginal women and girls including conducting a National Public Inquiry, involving relevant stakeholders, to enable the State Party to effectively devise a National Action Plan. The Committee also recommends significant improvement of the socio-economic status of aboriginal women and girls by developing specific strategies to increase food security, housing and education in aboriginal communities. Additionally, the Committee encourages the State Party to make efforts to address negative stereotypes.

CEDAW Committee
CEDAW Committee

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