Canada has launched an inquiry into the killings and disappearances of indigenous women and girls. Headed by an indigenous female judge, the five-member commission includes lawyers, a professor and an activist.
Marion Buller, who became British Columbia's first indigenous female judge in 1994, will chair a commission examining the high rate of disappearances and murders of women from Canada's First Nations communities. Buller will work alongside three women - the Quebec activist Michele Audette, the lawyer Qajaq Robinson and the law professor Marilyn Poitras - and one man, the lawyer Brian Eyolfson.
"This inquiry is needed to achieve justice and healing and to put an end to this ongoing and terrible tragedy," Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said on Wednesday.
Indigenous women represent 4 percent of Canada's population but make up 16 percent of homicide victims.
'Deep systemic challenges'
The UN urged Canada to launch the inquiry last year, following a 2014 report and 2015 update by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that identified 1,049 murdered and 172 missing aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper resisted such calls. Officials dismissed the deaths and disappearances as the result of domestic violence.
Justin Trudeau had pledged the inquiry in his successful 2015 Liberal campaign for prime minister. He has linked the violence to poverty, unemployment, lack of safe transportation, mental health, substance abuse and sustained policies of exclusion. Earlier this year, for example, a remote indigenous community declared a state of emergency following several suicide attempts by teenagers.
About 2,000 indigenous women met with ministers to push the inquiry. The talks "left no doubt in our minds about the urgent need to examine the underlying and deep systemic challenges of this violence, including racism, sexism and the sustained impact of colonialism," Indigenous Affairs Minister Bennett said.
The commission will report its preliminary findings and make recommendations next year. The panel plans to release a final report on improving safety conditions for indigenous women and recommending ways to commemorate the dead in 2018.
"We need to identify the causes of those disparities and take action now to end them," Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, an indigenous woman, said on Wednesday. "We know that the inquiry cannot undo the injustices that indigenous peoples have suffered over decades, but we can review what has happened in the past, reflect on our present circumstances and chart a path moving forward."
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP)