Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Words spoken earlier this week by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller have the CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) riled.
Miller delivered a statement June 5 marking the fourth anniversary since the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) delivered its final report.
“He says it's not a tick box operation,” said Lynne Groulx, and she agrees. “It's not a tick box…It's a genocide.”
“But at the same time…if you are responsible for a department and you have 231 calls for justice…231 activities and initiatives and things that you have to do to end the genocide, excuse me, you need to make a list,” Groulx said.
In a brief address in the House of Commons foyer on Monday, Miller said that more than 20 federal departments and agencies were working to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender diverse peoples by responding to the inquiry’s calls for justice “directed at the federal government.”
“It's important for me to acknowledge that this work is not about reports or numbers or checking boxes. It's about people,” said Miller.
In its 2022-23 annual progress report for the Federal Pathway action plan on MMIWG, the Liberal government asserts that it made progress on “key initiatives” with new and ongoing investments tackling both immediate issues of safety and long-term systemic and institutional issues.
“While all those measures indicate progress, we know that we have only touched the surface. There is still much to be done,” said Miller.
Separate report cards undertaken by NWAC and CBC clearly indicate that the federal government has fallen well short of meeting the end goal.
According to a CBC analysis released June 5, “to date, only two of the 231 calls have been completed — and more than half haven’t even been started.”
NWAC’s “annual scorecard” of federal government progress in 2022-2023 states that there has been no “significant or meaningful progress” made this year.
An “overwhelming lack of meaningful action, absence of accountability mechanisms, and the worsening state of crisis” has led NWAC to grade the government’s annual performance on the implementation of the national action plan as a failure.
Conversely, NWAC, which dropped out of the federal government-led process to develop the national action plan, and instead developed its own 66-point action plan in 2021, has noted “full or substantial progress” in 51 actions, some progress in 13 actions and no progress on three actions.
“We're small compared to the government. We've made ourselves a list and we're holding ourselves accountable because we have a role to play, too, and we are doing that…We're checking off, ‘OK. Yes, we did that. Yes, we did that,’” said Groulx.
She also contends that the government is “bulky (and) bureaucratic” and because of that has difficulty accomplishing its goals.
“Instead of going in a straight line…they're going round and round, talking about the initiatives. They don't have to redo the work. The work has already been done by the (national inquiry) commissioners and the results are in that report. They just have to actually take the action. But because the bureaucracy likes to spin around, they're still spinning around,” said Groulx, “And while they’re talking, (NWAC is) doing.”
She also says that Miller is making too large a distinction between what actions fall into provincial jurisdiction or federal jurisdiction.
“This is the federal government who's responsible for the genocide,” said Groulx.
“This genocide has to be dealt with and we expect the federal government to take that leadership and take that responsibility and start getting an action plan that really has the action in it with the measurable results.”
Miller announced that priority would be given to discussions on a Red Dress alert system, an oversight mechanism, and an Indigenous human rights ombudsperson.
An independent oversight mechanism, which will report to Parliament on the implementation of the Calls for Justice, and an ombudsperson fall under the Human and Indigenous Rights and Governmental Obligations Justice section of the national inquiry’s final report.
Along with the ombudsperson, however, the national inquiry also called for the establishment of a National Indigenous and Human Rights Tribunal.
The Red Dress alert system, which would see an emergency notification sent to the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or gender-diverse person went missing, is something Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan has been pursuing.
In May, the House of Commons adopted a motion for the federal government to declare ongoing violence against Indigenous women, girls or gender-diverse persons a national emergency. That same motion called for the creation of a Red Dress alert system.
While the Red Dress alert system and an Indigenous human rights ombudsperson are important initiatives, Groulx says it is advocates like NWAC that have pushed for them. She also adds that she’ll only believe the government is serious on their implementation when the action has actually been taken “because they’re awfully slow to move.”
Groulx is also admonishing the federal government for not funding grassroots organizations and frontline workers adequately.
And while Miller claimed that the federal government’s initiatives were making a “real difference” in the lives of women, girls and gender-diverse people, Groulx said women, girls and gender-diverse people aren’t feeling any safer or seeing any changes.
A national MMIWG2S gathering was held in Vancouver this past February and hosted by the Assembly of First Nations. A report released this past week on that gathering indicated that “the AFN heard genuine grief and frustration with the lack of action felt by survivors and families. From this, a resounding recommendation for immediate action is being taken up.”
The AFN report from the gathering, “Connecting hearts and making change,” also said that survivors and families were concerned that the MMIWG calls for justice “will end up shelved along with other government reports with no concrete action felt.”
Groulx applauds the federal Liberals for doing the right thing by pushing ahead with the national inquiry, a campaign promise Justin Trudeau made in 2015. In the 2019 election, Trudeau committed to implementing the calls for justice. Groulx says the government’s “next right thing” is to take action.
“So if you don't have a list and a tick box, we have one, and we're going to hold you accountable on them,” said Groulx.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.