University of Ottawa Task Force on Respect and Equality

Friday, January 30, 2015

Yesterday a task force of experts released their report on ending sexual violence at the University of Ottawa. Here are their recommendations:

Create an action team responsible for implementing the Task Force recommendations.

Demonstrate the university leadership’s commitment to preventing sexual violence by having all members of the senior administration participate in awareness training by fall 2015.

Adopt an explicit statement of values to clearly articulate and transmit the University’s position regarding respect and equality and integrate this statement of values into Destination 2020.

 Adopt a new sexual violence policy and protocol that addresses the identified shortcomings of policies 67 and 67a.

Arrange for the delivery of harassment and sexual violence training to a variety of specified groups.

Deliver a campus-wide bystander education program in French and English led jointly by students, staff and faculty based on the research-supported Bringing in the Bystander initiative.

Collaborate with community-based organizations and experts regarding the delivery of support services to survivors of sexual violence and education for the University of Ottawa community.

Clarify and publicize the mandate and role of the Human Rights Office.

Collect and make public data on the number of harassment, sexual violence and discrimination complaints received by the University annually.

Mandate a gender audit of Sports Services and sexual violence training for student athletes and full-time coaching staff.

Fund the development of new undergraduate courses that address sexual violence from an interdisciplinary perspective

International commission puts the Oppal Inquiry in context

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Read this new op-ed about Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Putting a National Inquiry on the Radar

Friday, January 16, 2015

Putting a National Inquiry on the Radar

Kim Stanton, LEAF Legal Director

The IACHR Report arrives at a time when the Prime Minister has indicated that the call for a national inquiry on MMIW “isn’t really high on [his government’s] radar”. When the IACHR inquired of the government about plans for a national inquiry, the government advised that “money would be better spent on action rather than more recommendations” (para. 295). This response reflects a shallow view of the value of a public inquiry – if a national inquiry is provided with strong terms of reference, along with visionary commissioners who will make it a truly public inquiry, then a national inquiry is a very important action to take.

There is another problem with the government’s response. In support of its argument that “action” rather than further study was required, the federal government pointed to recommendations from over 45 reports that it says constitute adequate study (para. 299). While the various reports have touched upon related issues to varying degrees, none of these reports is from a national commission of inquiry focused on violence against Indigenous women. Further, research conducted by the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women (LSC)[1] highlights the fact that very few of the over 700 recommendations made in those reports have been implemented. The LSC concludes that while there is consensus about the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, there has been very little response to address the crisis. A national, state-sponsored inquiry is needed to forcefully explore and address the causes of this lack of response.

This conclusion is now backed up by the IACHR Report, which ends with a discussion of “the question of a national inquiry”. The Report acknowledges the widespread support in Canada for a national inquiry, and notes that Canada has been instructed by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:

…to coordinate its various policies and programs in a comprehensive national strategy, a recommendation that was also made during Canada’s 2009 and 2013 Universal Periodic Review. Canada’s provincial premiers have also expressed support for a National Inquiry into the matter. The IACHR also notes that among the recommendations in its report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Canada, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, suggested that “the federal Government should undertake a comprehensive, nation-wide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, organized in consultation with indigenous peoples.” (para. 300)

The IACHR Report calls upon the government to provide a coordinated response to address the root causes of the violence and to improve its consultation with those most affected. 

A national inquiry would create the road map for achieving these objectives. Such an inquiry is needed to examine why there has been so much resistance to implementation of known and recommended measures to address the issue. The purpose of such an inquiry is not simply, as the government’s response suggests, to make more recommendations. Its purpose is to be a catalyst for real change. A commission of inquiry can play an important pedagogical role through its very existence. If properly mandated and conscientiously run, a public inquiry into why we know Indigenous women are subjected to violence at a far higher rate than non-Indigenous women, and yet do so little about it, will educate the wider public on this issue. There are hard questions that need to be asked about the resistance of our society to honestly facing the systemic issues that plague us. A well-run commission will stimulate a national conversation about the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women, a conversation we cannot continue to avoid. The IACHR Report is the latest credible call to put a national inquiry on the radar.

Kim Stanton completed her doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law on truth commissions and public inquiries, and has published articles on the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, and the BC Missing Women Commission. She is the Legal Director of LEAF (which has supported the call for a national inquiry for the missing and murdered Indigenous women).

[1] The LSC is a nation-wide ad hoc coalition of groups and individuals formed in 2014 following the murder of Inuit university student Loretta Saunders, to marshal resources that address violence against Indigenous women. The preliminary research was conducted by volunteer legal researchers Pippa Feinstein and Megan Pearce. 

A Roundup of Information on the Inter-American Report

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Interest in the report by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on B.C.'s missing and murdered Indigenous women is high.

 In English you will find coverage by:

 The Centre for World Indigenous Studies,
The Globe and Mail,
The Toronto Star,
Yorkton this Week,
Huffington Post,
Thompson Reuters,
The Straight,
TD Waterhouse,
The Vancouver Observer,
The Vancouver Sun,
Global News,
The Chronicle Herald,
Inside Brockville,
Metro News,
Fort Erie Times,
First Post,
100 Mile Free Press,
Inside Halton,
Sun News,
The Kelowna Daily Courier,
Yorkton this Week,
Am 730,
Kelowna Now.

The Assembly of First Nations issued a press release calling for a national inquiry in light of the Commission's findings.

The BC Civil Liberties Association issued a press release condemning human rights abuses against Indigenous women, and calling for concrete action from the federal government.

Indigenous Women in Canada are Protected by International Human Rights Law

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Indigenous Women in Canada are protected by International Human Rights Law

Angela Cameron

The Harper government had an opportunity to participate during the writing of the report on missing and murdered Indigenous women by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. One of the many careful steps of this thorough investigation allowed the Harper government to provide observations on an early version of the Commission’s findings.

In their response to the report the Harper government baldly claimed that international human rights law does not apply within Canada.

‘We give serious consideration to the views and recommendations of human rights bodies, but wish to emphasize that they are non-legally binding.’ [1]

This is not the first time the Harper government has made this claim in relation to Indigenous peoples.[2] In reply, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, called this ‘a manifestly untenable position.”[3]

In their report the Inter-American Commission dedicates approximately 23 pages to outlining how the Harper government's position is simply wrong at law. At the most basic level Canada became a full member of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1990, which affords us numerous advantages in trade, political relations and security. By becoming a member Canada also took on obligations. We gave the Commission, which is the human rights body of the OAS, jurisdiction to keep track of our human rights record, amongst other powers.[4] This report tells us that our record in relation to Indigenous women is shameful and we must do something about it.

 More generally the Commission  cites binding international legal instruments such as the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties[5], and the legal rule of customary international law[6] which basically state that if you endorse an international human rights instrument you must uphold your obligations under that instrument. These are straight forward rules that states must comply with.

The Commission is not alone in both condemning human rights violations against Indigenous women, and in asserting that international human rights law does indeed apply in Canada. This is not the first time the Harper government’s human rights violations have been noted by the international community.

 For instance in 2008 the United Nations body charged with upholding gender equality noted that Indigenous women in Canada were experiencing human rights violations due to poverty, violence, incarceration, and lack of legal protection. [7]  The United Nations body mentioned the phenomenon of missing and murdered Indigenous women specifically,[8] and asserted that international human rights are “… binding on all branches of Government.”[9]

All of this boils down to a simple idea: Canada as a nation signed onto these binding international human rights obligations because Canadians believe in upholding human rights. We spoke loudly of our commitment to the international community in endorsing these instruments. In denying the application of human rights instruments in Canada the Harper government is aligning itself with states whose human rights records are beyond appalling. That is not what Canadians want.

Angela Cameron is an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. She is a Board member of the Feminist Alliance for International Action and the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law. 

[1] State of Canada, Response to the IACHR’s Report on the Situation of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia, Canada. Note PRMOAS – 0232, October 30, 2014.

[2] In 2011 the Harper government made the same claim in relation to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[3] United Nations Human Rights Council, 2010.

[4] Pursuant to Articles 18 and 20 of the Statute of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and The Charter of the Organization of American States, Articles 3, 16, and 51.

[5] Article 31(3) (c). Canada endorsed this treaty in 1970.

[6] For more on this legal rule see: Paul Joffe, “Undermining Indigenous Peoples’ Security and Human Rights” in Joyce Green Ed, Indivisible: Indigenous Human Rights (Fernwood: Halifax, 2014) 217 at 222.

[7] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW/C/CAN/co/7.

[8] At pars. 31 and 32.

[9] At par. 10

Canada's Shame

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Canada’s Shame

Holly Johnson

Twelve hundred missing and murdered Aboriginal women is a national shame. That is not new. What is new is that ours is now an international shame. The investigation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in British Columbia is the just the latest dressing down from a United Nations body on the failure of Canadian governments to uphold their human rights obligations to prevent this violence and address the root causes.

Our federal government is steadfast in its portrayal of the killings of Aboriginal women as simply a matter for the police. Federal  government officials portray this as an individual problem, of women who choose “risky lifestyles” and therefore are somehow to blame for their own fate. Or as part of the mix of dysfunctional Aboriginal communities.  

It’s difficult to know where to start with such a facile portrayal of a complex problem. Drawing on deeply rooted hateful stereotypes  about the degeneracy of Aboriginal people, which it’s safe to say most Canadians adhere to on some level, is an easy and lazy political strategy, if not a terribly sophisticated one. But let’s take a closer look at the limited available data that might support or refute those claims.

The RCMP conducted a study in 2014 documenting reported incidents of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across all police jurisdictions in Canada. It is shocking that many years after these murders and disappearances were well known, long after the Native Women’s Association of Canada had documented over 500, after Robert Pickton’s conviction, after the Oppal Inquiry in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the federal government through the RCMP finally considered it might be important to require police departments to improve their record-keeping.  It’s late but it’s important and it’s a start to better data collection.

The report is short on details but what was reported is this: Aboriginal women are growing as a proportion of all homicides of women. Aboriginal women were less likely to be killed in a residence and more likely to be killed in an open area.  Much is made of the fact that the majority of Aboriginal victims knew their killers, either as an acquaintance or a spouse, as is the case for non-Aboriginal women. From this we might assume the killers were Aboriginal men and toss the problem back onto Aboriginal communities to solve.  However, the blunt category of “acquaintance” could mean someone the women met very recently, in other words not a complete stranger (the only other possible categories were other family members and intimates). Acquaintances made up 30% of all killings of Aboriginal women compared with 19% of other women. In fact, Aboriginal women were less likely to be killed by a spouse: 29% compared with 41% of non-Aboriginal women. Even within these we cannot know if the spouse was also Aboriginal, as assumption easily made but not supported.

Another “vulnerability factor” cited by the RCMP report is that Aboriginal victims were more likely to be involved in the sex trade. This forms the basis of the “risky lifestyle” conclusion but the data actually shows that 88% of murdered Aboriginal women were not involved in the sex trade.   

These patterns in the data raise all kinds of questions about the context in which these women were murdered or disappeared. At the time of the report, 164 Aboriginal women were missing. If 164 white, middle-class women were missing would it take years of lobbying and international investigations to convince Canadian governments to act? I think not. More than one would likely raise sufficient concern and evidence of an urgent problem requiring immediate and extensive resources.

Under the Harper regime, we can expect policy decisions to continue to be based on discriminatory stereotypes of Aboriginal women and inadequate and partial statistical data.  But there is good news. The Harper government is becoming increasingly isolated in their official view that this is simply a police matter, not a human rights problem requiring serious study and concerted action. Now that our political leaders are squaring off over election issues, let us cast our ballet with the leader who takes seriously the lives and safety of the most marginalized members of our society.

Holly Johnson is professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa and Chair of the Steering Committee of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)

Yes Mr. Harper It Is A Sociological Phenomenon

Monday, January 12, 2015

InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights Issues Breakthrough Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Sharon McIvor, Shelagh Day and Gwen Brodsky

The InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights has provided a direct answer to Prime Minister Harper: Yes, the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls are a ‘sociological phenomenon’.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission issued a breakthrough report today on its investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia. This investigation was requested by the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action in March 2012. The Commission makes key findings and recommendations which apply in all parts of the country and to all levels of government.

Of course, the murders and disappearances are crimes. And the InterAmerican Commission is clear that Canada has an obligation under international human rights law to ensure that the response of the police, prosecutors and judges is swift, diligent, effective, and unbiased, which it has not been so far.

But the Commission is also clear that that the scope of Canada’s obligations is much broader. Canada has to address the risk factors that cause and perpetuate the violence. Specifically, the Commission tells Canada that it must combat the poverty of Indigenous women, improve education and employment, guarantee adequate housing and address the disproportionate application of the criminal law against them.

The root causes of the high levels of violence against Indigenous women, the InterAmerican Commission says, lie in a history of discrimination beginning with colonization and continuing through laws and policies such as the Indian Act and residential schools. This history laid the foundations for pervasive violence and created the risks Indigenous women face today, through economic marginalization, social dislocation and psychological trauma.

Because of the strong connection between the greater risks for violence and the social and economic inequalities that Indigenous women face, governments must address their social and economic marginalization.  

In this way, the InterAmerican Commission directly refutes the Prime Minister’s claim that this is a matter of individual crimes, not a sociological phenomenon. The Commission says clearly that there is a broad and known pattern of heightened risk and vulnerability, and the risk factors must be addressed.

As the InterAmerican Commission makes clear, the  international law standard of ‘due diligence’ which applies to Canada includes obligations to prevent and remedy the violence and Canada’s obligations can not be fully satisfied by effective investigation, prosecution and punishment alone.

It is no surprise then that the InterAmerican Commission finds that implementing the Oppal Inquiry’s recommendations in British Columbia is necessary, but just “a starting point for reforms to the investigative function.”

Nor is it any surprise that the InterAmerican Commission also strongly supports a nationwide inquiry. It says that there is much more to be understood and much more to be acknowledged.

Now it is not only Aboriginal women, and their many allies, telling the federal government that there is a need for a national co-ordinated response to the longstanding and persistent sex and race discrimination which they experience. A leading international human rights body has declared that Canada is required to do this in order to fulfill our human rights obligations.

Sharon McIvor is a lawyer and member of Lower Nicola Indian Band. Gwen Brodsky was counsel to the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action in the IACHR investigation. Shelagh Day is the Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, and expert on international human rights law.

Uottawa Graduate Students Shifting Perspectives on Feminist Theory

Friday, January 9, 2015

The assignment: present feminist legal methods to the graduate DCL 5301 Legal Research Methodology Class using six articles specifically assigned by Professor Suzanne Bouclin.
Our group dove into the diverse readings: Katharine Bartlett, “Feminist Legal Methods”; Brenda Cossman, “Sexual Citizens: Freedom, Vibrators and Belonging”; Kimberle Crenshaw: “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Colour”, Linda Collins and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray, “Toxic Battery: A tort for our time?”, Janet Halley, “Sexual Orientation and the Politics of Biology: A Critique of the Argument from Immutability”, and Dayna Nadine Scott, “’Gender Benders’: Sex and Law in the Constitution of Polluted Bodies.”  The articles explored and implemented feminist legal methodology in a variety of ways.

To pull the readings together, the group decided to present them as articles within a new publication entitled, "Perspective Shifter". It may be the first (albeit hypothetical) publication with a gender-based purchase price to reflect the corresponding wage gap!

The articles wove together with a look back in time at how feminist theory and methodology had affected change regarding the law on property division on marital breakdown. The 1975 Supreme Court decision in Murdoch v. Murdoch provided an illustrative example for understanding what it means to ask “the woman question” as articulated by Bartlett. The court held that Mrs. Murdoch’s regular ranch activities of “haying, raking, swathing, mowing, driving trucks, quietening horses, dehorning, vaccinating…” were simply “the work done by any ranch wife” and did not entitle her to a half-interest in the ranch property by way of resulting trust, overlooking the reality of women’s contributions at a time when property was typically held in the name of the husband only. The decision sparked a vociferous outcry.

Examined in turn, each article furthered our understanding that “a central goal to feminism is to be engaged, with others, in a critical, transformative process of seeking further partial knowledge from one’s admittedly limited habitat” (Katharine Bartlett).

Perhaps the best feedback came from one of the students, “Prior to tonight I obviously understood that women are sometimes discriminated against in workplace and often objectified in the media, but I never really understood how there could be a feminist theory of "the law." This presentation helped me see how far reaching and deep rooted the bias against women and other marginalized groups runs in the law and how these biases are often not even seen or questioned.”

The presentation team included: Tatyana Vasilchuk, Olajumoke Odepe, Sherri Yazdani and Sameer Nurmohamed. All are currently completing the LLM program.
Designed by Rachel Gold.