TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday the disappearances and deaths of indigenous women in Canada have too often been treated as a low priority or ignored and he promised a national action plan to end the problem.
Trudeau was responding to an official inquiry report issued Monday after interviews with 2,380 family members and experts that said the problem was so serious it amounts to a “genocide.”
“Time and again, we have heard of their disappearance, violence, or even death being labelled low priority or ignored,” Trudeau said. “It is absolutely unacceptable. And it must end.”
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police report before the inquiry was formed found that while indigenous women represent about 4.3 percent of the total female population, they account for 16 percent of all female homicide victims. That study reviewed cases from 1980 to 2013 and found 1,181 First Natons women fell into the missing or murdered category — almost double earlier estimates. Of those women, 164 were missing and 1,017 murdered.
“To the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, to their families, and to survivors — We have failed you” Trudeau said. “But we will fail you no longer.”
Michèle Audette, one of the commissioners of the inquiry, said they heard from women and family members that the justice system does not work for indigenous people. “They don’t matter when they go through that system,” Audette said.
Audette said she was disappointed Trudeau didn’t use the word “genocide,” and said, “I was hoping he would have that courage.”
But chief inquiry commissioner Marion Buller said they didn’t need Trudeau to use the word.
“We often think of genocide as the holocaust and the killings in Africa and elsewhere and of course that is genocide, and of course that is tragedy, but that type of genocide we have in Canada is … death by a million paper cuts for generations,” Buller said.
The report said police and the justice system need to acknowledge that the historical and current relationship with Indigenous people has been largely defined by “colonialism, racism, bias, discrimination, and fundamental cultural and societal differences.”
Qajaq Robinson, another one of commissioners, said violence against indigenous women can happen with impunity in Canada.
Brenda Lucki, the commissioner of Canada’s national police force, noted that when she appeared before the inquiry last year, she apologized to the families of missing and murdered on behalf of the RCMP and promised the force would do better to investigate the cases and support families.
Lucki also said in a statement that investigators across Canada are actively reviewing files of missing and murdered women and said the RCMP would study the inquiry report.