On June 3, 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its Final Report, titled “Reclaiming Power and Place”, at its closing ceremony. The Final Report includes 231 recommendations, or “Calls for Justice” directed at governments, industries, institutions, social service providers and all Canadians. The Final Report is based on the National Inquiry’s fifteen community hearings across the country, and three statement-gathering events in 2017 and 2018. Nearly 2,400 people have participated in the inquiry since it began. A copy of the 1,200-page report is available here.
The Final Report reveals that in 2019, indigenous women are 12 times more likely to die at the hands of violence or go missing than non-indigenous women. The Final Report also flags how coerced sterilization for indigenous women is still occurring in Canada today. Most shockingly, a CBC article recently noted that MMIWG cases continued at same rate even after the Inquiry began.
Media coverage of the Final Report significantly centered on the Inquiry’s conclusion that the violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA people amounts to a genocide under international law. During his speech at the Inquiry’s closing ceremony, Justin Trudeau remained silent on the genocide issue, and refused to use the word. The Prime Minster later used the word, but only in the context of the Final Report, without commenting on whether he agreed with the Inquiry’s findings. Such avoidance may, however, be contrasted to the position of Andrew Sheer, who has outright rejected use of the word, stating, “genocide isn’t the right word to describe what’s been done to generations of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.”
The debate around using the term “genocide” exposes the conflict that Canadians have with recognizing the atrocities visited on indigenous women and girls in Canada. The Final Report does, however, ground the use of the term in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines genocide as, “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The difficult truths of the Final Report cannot be denied. These are realities that are not historical. Moving forward, we must remember to focus on effecting real change for Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S across Canada. While this is not an easy task, guidance lies in the Final Report’s 231 Calls for Justice. These Calls to Action include one specifically for attorneys and law societies, calling for “mandatory intensive and periodic training of Crown attorneys, defence lawyers, court staff, and all who participate in the criminal justice system, in the area of Indigenous cultures and histories, including distinctions-based training.” The Calls for Justice are also addressed to all Canadians, and encourage Canadians to “become a strong ally” for indigenous peoples. The Final Report affirms that this involves more than just tolerance – it means actively working to break down barriers. Let this Call for Justice be a clear reminder that while theInquiry may have concluded their report, the work remains to be completed.
Lisa C. Fong and Michael Ng