Justin Trudeau vows to act on deaths of Canada’s Indigenous women and girls, called a ‘genocide’

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A special commission tasked with investigating murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada found the deaths of more than a thousand women and girls in recent decades to be a national “genocide”.

Key points:

  • Canadian police said Indigenous women were over-represented among female homicide victims
  • PM Justin Trudeau said the issue had previously been labelled a “low priority”
  • He promised a national action plan to end the problem

The 1,200 page report released on Monday (local time) blames long-standing discrimination against Indigenous people for the deaths, and criticised the country’s failure to protect the women and girls.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the disappearances and murders of Indigenous women had too often been treated as a low priority or ignored, and he promised a national action plan to end the problem.

The opening procession shows three Indigenous women in traditional clothing.

The official inquiry report interviewed 2,380 family members and experts that said the problem was so serious it amounted to a “genocide.”

“Time and again, we have heard of their disappearance, violence, or even death being labelled low priority or ignored,” Mr Trudeau said.

“It is absolutely unacceptable. And it must end.”

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police report before the inquiry was formed found that while Indigenous women represented about 4.3 per cent of the total female population, they accounted for 16 per cent of all female homicide victims.

That study reviewed cases from 1980 to 2013 and found 1,181 Indigenous, or First Nations, women fell into the missing or murdered category — almost double earlier estimates. Of those women, 164 were missing and 1,017 murdered.

“To the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, to their families, and to survivors — we have failed you,” Mr Trudeau said.

“But we will fail you no longer.”

‘Death by a million paper cuts for generations’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets two women at the national inquiry.

The report said police and the justice system need to acknowledge that the historical and current relationship with Indigenous people has been largely defined by “colonialism, racism, bias, discrimination, and fundamental cultural and societal differences”.

Michele Audette, one of the commissioners of the inquiry, said they heard from women and family members that the justice system did not work for Indigenous people.

“They don’t matter when they go through that system,” Ms Audette said.

Ms Audette added that she was disappointed Mr Trudeau did not use the word “genocide”, and said: “I was hoping he would have that courage.”

But chief inquiry commissioner Marion Buller said they did not need Mr Trudeau to use the word.

“We often think of genocide as the Holocaust and the killings in Africa and elsewhere, and of course that is genocide, and of course that is tragedy, but that type of genocide we have in Canada is … death by a million paper cuts for generations,” Ms Buller said.