Miami Law Human Rights Clinic

Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada

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Human Rights Advocacy

In Fall 2011, the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic began working on the issue of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada under the direction of Professor Caroline Bettinger-Lopez. The HRC's "Team Canada" partners with the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) to address this serious problem in Canada. In two semesters, we have drafted and submitted a briefing paper to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the Situation of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in British Columbia, Canada, and participated in a "Thematic Hearing" before the Commission on March 28, 2012.

Aboriginal women and girls in Canada face unacceptably high rates of violence, as is shown by the over 600 disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women and girls across the country over the past 30 years. Despite the overwhelming statistics concerning disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women and girls, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia have failed in their obligation to exercise due diligence to adequately prevent the violence, investigate reports of disappearances and murders, and bring perpetrators to justice. Violence against Aboriginal women and girls and the State's failure to respond appropriately to this problem are integrally linked to the fact that Aboriginal women and girls experience widespread discrimination and are amongst the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups in Canadian society - a reality which is deeply rooted in colonization and its impacts. Many believe it is only a complex combination of racism, misogyny, and colonization that can explain why and how so many Aboriginal women and girls have gone missing or been murdered, with so little public attention paid to this ongoing tragedy.

From March 26-28, 2012, HRC's "Team Canada" traveled to Washington, DC for a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the issue of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in British Columbia, Canada. NWAC, FAFIA, and the HRC participated in the hearing, along with Laurie Odjick, a mother whose daughter has been missing since 2008. Laurie has been an active advocate for family members of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.

The basic structure of the thematic hearing entailed: 20 minutes for Petitioners NWAC and FAFIA to present the issue to the Commission, followed by 20 minutes for the Government of Canada to present its response, followed by 20 minutes of Question and Answer period between the Commissioners and Petitioners and the Government.

On the issue of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in British Columbia, Canada, the Petitioners detailed (1) facts about the disappearances and murders locally in British Columbia and nationally throughout Canada, and ways in which the Government's efforts have fallen short; and (2) the historically-rooted discrimination faced by Aboriginal women and girls and the systemic nature of the institutionalized disadvantage these women and girls face, particularly within the criminal justice system. Representatives from the Government of Canada responded with information regarding policies and programs – such as education and labor market participation promotion – that have been implemented in response to this violence and the social and economic deprivations faced by Aboriginal women and girls. While recognizing governmental efforts, the Commissioners expressed extreme concern over this grave situation.

PHOTOS

March 27, 2012: NWAC President Jeanette Corbiere Lavell and HRC students Amanda Darlington and Rachel Oostendorp preparing for the thematic hearing.

March 27, 2012: Shelagh Day from FAFIA, Irene Goodwin from NWAC, and HRC student Rachel Oostendorp worked on preparing supplemental documents for the thematic hearing.

March 28, 2012: Preparation before the IACHR hearing. Left to right: Sharon McIvor, with the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA); Dr. Gwen Brodsky, Constitutional Equality Rights Lawyer and Counsel to the Native Women's Association of Canada at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in British Columbia; Laurie Odjick, Advocate for Family Members of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls

March 28, 2012: Rachel Oostendorp, HRC Student, and Professor Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, HRC Director, in front of the Organization of American States

March 28, 2012: Left to right: Professor Caroline Bettinger-Lopez; Shelagh Day, Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA); Amanda Darlington, Student, and Intern with the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic.

March 28, 2012: Representatives from NWAC, FAFIA, and HRC in front of the Organization of American States Building after the hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


RELATED WEBSITES

Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) website

NWAC's fact sheet on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Girls in British Colombia, Canada

Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) website

Amnesty International's Stolen Sisters Campaign website


RESOURCES AND MEDIA COVERAGE

PDF iconClick here for the Clinic's Briefing Paper to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for our Thematic Hearing on March 28, 2012 on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in British Columbia, Canada

Click here for the video of the March 28, 2012 IACHR Thematic Hearing

Click here for a webstory on the UM Law website about the HRC's trip to DC

Complaints Regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in British Columbia, Canada, Human Rights Brief, American University Washington College of Law, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, April 2, 2012

Click here for a story from the website Indian Country about the IACHR thematic hearing

PDF iconNative Women's Association of Canada Report, What Their Stories Tell Us: Research Findings from the Sisters in Spirit Initiative

PDF iconAmnesty International Report, No More Stolen Sisters: The Need for a Comprehensive Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada

PDF iconBC CEDAW Group, Nothing to Report: A Report on Progress in Implementing Priority Recommendations made by the Committee in its 2008 Concluding Observations on Canada

PDF iconHouse of Commons Canada Interim Report, Call into the Night: An Overview of Violence Against Aboriginal Women