The call for a national public inquiry into the large number of Canadian aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing has been joined by the man appointed by the United Nations to assesses indigenous rights around the world.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, released a report about Canada on Monday that says the problems of its native people are difficult to reconcile in a country that enjoys such widespread prosperity.
Mr. Anaya visited six provinces last October to observe the condition of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. His wide-ranging report acknowledges the “notable efforts” made by governments to improve the social and economic well-being of the indigenous population, but says there has been little progress since a previous UN rapporteur was here in 2004.
“You have these conditions within aboriginal communities, particularly on reserves, that are really striking,” Mr. Anaya, an American law professor, said in a telephone interview. “The [substandard] housing conditions, the access to basic needs and services, and the high levels of social ills that exist on reserves such as the phenomenon of missing aboriginal women and children …”
At the time Mr. Anaya’s report was written, the Native Women’s Association of Canada had documented 660 cases over the past 20 years of native women who had been murdered or disappeared. The RCMP has since put that number at nearly 1,200 cases over the past 30 years.
“To me that just shows that much more needs to be understood about the dimensions of the problem and, hence, it further supports the call that I have made, and that others have made, for a national inquiry,” Mr. Anaya said. Not only can an inquiry give a voice to victims, he said, “it can breed better co-operation all around towards specific measures that can be fruitful, or more fruitful than those that have been taken.”
The federal Conservative government has resisted calls for an inquiry and Mr. Anaya’s report did not appear to alter that position.
“Over the last number of years there have been some 40 different reports, inquiries and measures taken to identify issues, but the reality is more work needs to be done directly to get to the problem,” said Justice Minister Peter MacKay. The government, he said, has already taken steps to improve the overall well-being of aboriginal people and to support police action on these “important files.”
The report was released on the same day that deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario joined other First Nations representatives and politicians at a news conference to call for an inquiry. “I think it would be a good start towards healing, not just for the families that have lost their daughters and the moms,” Mr. Fiddler said. “But I think it would be a healing exercise for the whole country.”
Within a large suite of recommendations, Mr. Anaya is also calling for an extension of the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is exploring the unfortunate legacy of aboriginal residential schools. The report of the commission is due in June, 2015, and the executive director has said there is not enough time left to do all of the work that needs to be done.
National Inuit leader Terry Audla said he was pleased to see Mr. Anaya echo the call for sufficient funding to address such issues as overcrowded housing and education.
And Ghislain Picard, the acting spokesman for the Assembly of First Nations, said it is discouraging that there been no improvement in the lot of Canada’s aboriginal peoples since 2004 – and in fact their condition seems to be worsening.
“To me that says a lot about what little we have accomplished over the last 10 years,” Mr. Picard said.
But Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a statement that the report acknowledges many positive steps taken by the government to help aboriginal people in Canada. “We will review the report carefully,” he said, “to determine how we can best address the recommendations.”