Feminist groups raise concerns about draft terms of reference for national inquiry on missing & murdered Indigenous women

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu, left, and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, right (Image/CBC News)
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu, left, and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, right (Image/CBC News)

On Tuesday, a draft document outlining the terms of reference for the upcoming national inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women was leaked by several news outlets. The document, circulated by the federal government to the provinces and territories for review, says commissioners will investigate and report on “systemic causes of violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada, including underlying social, economic, cultural, institutional, and historical causes.”

While the aim of the inquiry will be to hear from the people directly affected, feminist groups are concerned, based on the language in the document, that important criticisms have not been taken into account.

Five commissioners, including a chief commissioner, will be traveling throughout the country to speak with those who have expressed “substantial interest in the process,” CBC News reports.

During the government’s pre-inquiry consultations, the focus on “families” has been cause for concern, in that it leaves unaddressed missing and murdered women who were estranged from their families and communities.

At a press conference back in March, Fay Blaney, a founding member of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), argued that the government’s approach lacks a gendered lens and an explicit focus on male violence against women. She says the “families first agenda” means “a huge segment of our population is being excluded from the inquiry.”

While Blaney believes the families of missing and murdered women must indeed be included in the inquiry and that they have important data to share, she has stressed many times how imperative it is to include the Indigenous feminist voice in the inquiry.

In a press release published by Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRR), Blaney says:

“The families are set up with an impossible task. They are not equipped to advise the inquiry on how to prevent and eliminate violence against women on institutional and societal levels.”

While the document expresses an intention to look at the root causes of the ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, an explicit focus on male violence remains missing. Blaney worries that a focus solely on colonialism will avoid effectively addressing “the key issue of women’s equality.”

In the press release, Hilla Kerner, a collective member at VRR says:

“In the 10 page document, there is not one mention of men. Men are the ones who commit the violence against women, men are the ones who created and maintain oppressive and sexist laws and policies and men are the ones heading the institutions and agencies who are responsible for the plight of Indigenous women.” 

Kerner expresses hope, nonetheless, that the document commits to establishing an advisory body composed of feminist organizations. She adds: 

“For decades, feminist organizations across the country have been the ones responding to Indigenous women victims of male violence, providing them support and safety. The knowledge, expertise and experience accrued in front-line feminist organizations is crucial to the inquiry’s ability to examine and recommend substantial change that will advance Indigenous women’s equality and liberty.”

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.