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.
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.
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.