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OHRC letter to Premier Wynne regarding Murdered and Missing Indigenous women

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October 29, 2015

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1

Dear Premier Wynne:

At the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) we are inspired by the ground-breaking nature of the Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment (Action Plan) and the promise of positive change for women in our province who experience sexual violence and harassment – in all of its facets.  At the time of its release, the OHRC offered its ongoing support for the promotion of the Plan, including assistance with education and training. We also welcomed the opportunity to participate in the Roundtable on Sexual Violence and Harassment and are pleased that we have been able to contribute to these important discussions.

There is a clear connection between violence against women and the disparate social and economic status women face in our society, and indeed, across the globe.  It is with respect to this disparate social and economic status, particularly that of Indigenous women in our province, that I write this letter.[1]

The OHRC has a long history of addressing the issue of violence and harassment against women from an intersectional perspective. Our Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment, updated in 2013, recognizes that sexuality is often intertwined with racism.[2] People may hold stereotypical and racist views about someone’s sexuality based on their ethno-racial identity and these views may be behind some forms of sexual harassment and violence. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has made similar findings.[3]

The Action Plan states that a Joint Working Group on Violence Against Aboriginal Women is developing a long-term strategy to end violence against Aboriginal women. The Action Plan also calls on the federal government to support the National Aboriginal Organizations’ call to establish a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. The OHRC strongly supports this call.

In this regard, I wish to draw your attention to two new international reports that lend fresh insights into the insidious problem of violence against Indigenous women.   The Report of the Inquiry Concerning Canada of the Committee of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW/C/OP/CAN/1) (6 March 2015)[4]  and the report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights entitled Missing and Murdered women in British Columbia, Canada (30 Dec/14)[5]  are two ground-breaking expert reports, released this year, by international bodies that unequivocally support the intersectional perspective of how violence manifests itself against Indigenous women. These reports can provide critical insight into how the Action Plan can meet its stated goal of developing a long term strategy to end violence against Indigenous women.

The reports from the IACHR and the CEDAW Committee are unprecedented. Canada has never before been the subject of an inquiry under any Optional Protocol to any United Nations’ covenant or convention. The reports offer unique insights into and a deeper understanding of how discrimination against women manifests itself.  They outline how international human rights law analyzes violence against women, the obligations of governments when women experience violence at the hands of private actors, and they apply the law to the real-life situations of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. They offer fact-finding, analysis, rulings on violations and recommendations.

It is essential in my view that this rich jurisprudence from international expert bodies is absorbed into our understanding of the crisis in Canada, into how we analyze the situation, and how we move forward. This analysis is critical for Ontario, and indeed, all provinces and territories. We are still struggling to correct the characterization of the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls as a sad social phenomenon, as the women's own fault because of their "risky lifestyles", or as a series of disconnected, unfortunate crimes, which can be investigated and solved by police. It is important to bring this crisis into a human rights framework, to look closely at its systemic aspects, and to address the obligations of governments.

In the broader context of the Action Plan, the Roundtable is uniquely situated to look closely at how Indigenous women and girls experience violence and harassment. These reports offer a new level of analysis by providing an international perspective on what continues to be a tragic feature of Canadian society. I would urge the government to make the best use of these resources, in both the work of the Roundtable, and in the overall implementation of the Action Plan.

The OHRC will continue to use its own mandate and resources to address the human rights aspects of this deeply troubling issue. We would welcome any opportunity to further support the implementation of the government’s Action Plan, and we applaud and encourage the government’s focus on violence and harassment against Indigenous women and girls.

Yours sincerely,

Ruth Goba, Hon. BA, LL.B
Interim Chief Commissioner


Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General of Ontario

Hon. Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues

Hon. David Zimmer, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs

Kimberly Murray, Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Aboriginal Justice Division

Ontario Native Women’s Association

Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres

Metis Nation of Ontario

Chief Isadore Day, Chiefs of Ontario

[1] This is not to say that women of all socio-economic classes do not experience gendered violence.

[3] See Baylis-Flannery v. DeWilde, 2003 HRTO 28