OTTAWA — The secretary general of the Organization of American States says Canada is taking too long to act on the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, even as Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Wednesday that the government will come up with a national action plan by June 2020.
Luis Almagro said he received an “evasive” response from Ottawa to his proposal earlier this year to set up an expert panel to investigate the findings of the final report, including the conclusion that the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women in Canada constitute genocide. In an interview with the National Post, he said he expected the government would have done more by now to act on the 231 recommendations in the national inquiry’s final report, released in June. Almagro is in Canada this week, meeting with former commissioners of the inquiry and travelling to Indigenous communities to see first-hand the challenges facing Indigenous women.
After the report was made public, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to develop a national action plan to implement the recommendations. Speaking to chiefs at a special meeting of the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa on Wednesday, Bennett said the federal government plans to develop that plan by next June, a year after the final report’s release.
There was a response — it was very evasive
“That is a step forward, but it’s … not a huge and substantial step forward considering the timing of the suffering of the people and what the people need today,” Almagro said. “And sometimes one year is too much for some people to wait.”
The inquiry’s final report concluded that Canada’s laws and institutions violate Indigenous rights, amounting “to nothing less than the deliberate, often covert campaign of genocide” against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ people. Trudeau did not use the word “genocide” in his initial response to the report, but later acknowledged the finding.
In response, Almagro sent a letter to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, proposing to strike an expert panel to probe the conclusions. “The mere presumption of the crime of genocide against Indigenous women and girls in your country should not and cannot leave any room for indifference from the perspective of the Inter-American community and international community,” it read.
Speaking to the Post, Almagro said he received a muted reaction to his suggestion. “There was a response — it was very evasive,” he said. “They didn’t reject it, and they didn’t accept it.”
In a letter delivered to Almagro on June 28, Freeland said Canada is committed to addressing the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women, and is reviewing the report and its recommendations. She didn’t mention the creation of a panel.
An official in the foreign affairs minister’s office told the Post that Almagro doesn’t have the power to set up a panel himself. Instead, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous body within the Organization of American States (OAS), would have to make that decision.
But on June 25, the IACHR put out a news release urging Canada “to take concrete actions” to implement the report’s recommendations, and saying nothing about a panel. The official said that was taken to mean “what was important now was not another inquiry,” and added that Canada provided an update to the IACHR on its progress in September.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Bennett said Ottawa isn’t waiting for the national action plan before taking steps to help the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women. At the AFN meeting, Justice Minister David Lametti announced that funding for family-information liaison units, set up to help families get information about their loved ones from police, has been extended for three years.
Almagro, who was invited to Canada by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and is not here in his official capacity, said he wants to find other ways to help implement the report’s recommendations, whether or not a panel is struck. “I think the facts found during the inquiry perfectly match with the legal definition of genocide, consisting of a coordinated plan of different actions to the destruction of the essential foundations of the original native people of Canada,” he said.
But he said the federal government has so far been “reluctant” to act. “And they are not so eager for international cooperation,” he said. “Definitely not eager to be helped in this matter.”
— With files from The Canadian Press