Alexandra Kotowski is a Senior Associate with Human Rights Watch in New York City.
Unlike most world leaders, Justin Trudeau isn't afraid to identify himself as a feminist. To the contrary, on Twitter and again in a recent interview with the Toronto Star, the prime-minister-designate said, "I am a feminist. Proud to be a feminist," adding that the desire to respect and defend everyone's rights is a fundamental part of his identity.
After Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party's decisive victory in last month's election, Canadian women have many reasons to be hopeful about their new government. Mr. Trudeau has publicly committed to gender parity in his cabinet – a welcome shift, as only 12 of the previous Conservative government's 39 ministers were women. He supports generous parental leave and has unequivocally and vocally supported reproductive rights, even after being targeted by graphic anti-abortion attack ads.
Mr. Trudeau's decisive action to address the alarmingly high rates of violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada will be the first test of his commitment to follow through on the promise to protect and defend women's rights. Indigenous women and girls are significantly overrepresented among homicide victims – constituting 4.3 per cent of Canada's female population, but 16 per cent of female homicide victims.
This violence was thoroughly ignored by the Harper government, but the Liberal Party has pledged to establish a national public inquiry into the murders and disappearances. In making good on that promise, Mr. Trudeau needs to ensure an independent, impartial investigation moves forward as quickly as possible. He should make certain the process is rigorous, inclusive and developed with input and leadership from indigenous communities. Indigenous women and girls deserve nothing less.
He should also make sure the inquiry investigates police misconduct. Human Rights Watch research in northern British Colombia found not only serious police failures to protect women and girls from abuse, but also violent behaviour by police officers against women and girls, including excessive use of force, physical assault and rape.
Being a feminist prime minister means taking concrete steps toward building a country where all women feel safe, have confidence in their government and police, and finally have accountability for all the violence that has brought so much suffering to indigenous communities.