Robyn Benson, PSAC

October 4 vigil: no more stolen sisters


This Saturday marks the 9th annual cross-Canada vigil by Sisters In Spirit (SIS), to raise awareness and demand action for missing and murdered First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls. The PSAC, and our Aboriginal Peoples Circle, stands in solidarity with SIS, and with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, in demanding a national public inquiry into these many deaths and disappearances. Last year there were 216 local vigils held in Canada and around the world. Check out the time and location of the 2014 vigils here.

Amnesty International has offered strong support. And the Canadian Labour Congress, its affiliates and federations of labour are entirely behind this campaign, urging full support for the vigil. The CLC is circulating a petition to the Conservative government to hold the inquiry, one that indigenous people would lead.

It should be obvious why a public inquiry is necessary. The death toll has been catastrophic. The problem is much too large to be dealt with piecemeal. Yet Stephen Harper and his government have gone out of their way to obstruct the efforts of indigenous peoples in Canada to find a comprehensive solution.

Sisters in Spirit began the task of documenting the many deaths and disappearances. They compiled a database of nearly 600 missing and murdered women and girls—before Harper cut their funding in 2010. A new coalition has arisen in response, No More Silence, and is continuing that grim work. The RCMP, for its part, found nearly 1,200 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls between 1980 and 2012—and the real total may be much higher.

The fact is that we must have a fuller understanding of the many causes of this horrific toll of indigenous women and girls, 3.5 times more likely than non-indigenous women to be murdered by spouses, ex-partners or a family member, and seven times more likely to die at the hands of an acquaintance. And we need a comprehensive national action plan to save lives in the future—a plan that the government has consistently failed to deliver. As Amnesty’s Alex Neve and Beverley Jacobs note, this on-going violence “has to be understood in the context of centuries of dispossession, marginalization and impoverishment of indigenous women, their families and their communities; as well as the ongoing paternalistic relationship between indigenous peoples and the Canadian state.”

Recently, we’ve heard a lot about non-apology apologies: there was Paul Calandra in the House of Commons, apologizing for not answering a question—while saying it would likely happen again. And there was SunTV, apologizing for Ezra Levant’s hateful attack on Justin Trudeau and his family, just before Levant was back on-air, looking anything but contrite. But all of this pales in comparison with Stephen Harper’s apology to indigenous people for the residential school tragedy.

Since he delivered it, we have seen nothing but government opposition to indigenous peoples on every front.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in the wake of Harper’s statement, had to go to court to gain access to crucial documents, delaying its report by a full year.

Indigenous children still do not receive the same per capita social service funding as non-indigenous children. A case has been before the courts for years to put this right: but the Harper government has spent literally millions of dollars to defend this inequality, and the complainant, children’s advocate Cindy Blackstock, was stalked by government officials for much of that time.

A heart-rending struggle to obtain services for a badly disabled child led to the government’s spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to refuse it. Losing in court, the government vowed to appeal, and changed its mind only this past July.

Canada was one of the last countries to sign on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Last month, at a high-level UN conference that Harper refused to attend, Canada tried to walk that back, standing alone in opposition to a statement reaffirming support for it.

Something is very wrong here, to put it mildly. And the government’s stubborn refusal to hold a public inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls is only a part of it.

By attending the October 4 vigil, however, ordinary non-indigenous Canadians will demonstrate that they are rejecting this continued stonewalling. By itself, a public inquiry will do little, of course, without the political will to follow through on its findings. But it’s a start—a good start—and in the spirit of reconciliation, I urge our members to attend. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

[Photocredit: Amnesty International]

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on October 3, 2014 8:00 AM.

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