RFU statement on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

We would like to voice our support for the Federal government’s launching of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We recognize that Canada was created by force on unceded First Nations land, and Indigenous people did not consent to be subjected to colonialist culture or law. It is our belief that this legacy of colonialism in Canada has resulted in a disproportionate level of violence impacting Aboriginal communities. The intersection of, sex, class, and race leave Aboriginal women and girls at an even greater disadvantage in Canadian society. The purpose of the inquiry is to examine factors underlying the systemic violence against Aboriginal women and girls, particularly the role of the government, coroners’ offices, and existing provincial and federal laws. However, we are disappointed that the Terms of Reference exclude the examination of police conduct.

There are those who have expressed doubts about the necessity of the Inquiry, citing that the root causes of poverty, addiction, and racism are well-known. However, our hope is that in formally exploring these factors, the Inquiry will force these uncomfortable truths out into the open and provide the information necessary to carve a tangible way forward that results in actual material action. Furthermore, Canada needs to face the reality that sex trafficking exists in this country and acknowledge the connection between the prostitution industry and what is happening to Aboriginal women.

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada said in a press release:

“Girls have described that they were sex trafficked from group homes and motels that are part of the child welfare system. We have a disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are in the criminal justice system. These issues are all interrelated and our expectation is that one reason we are having the Inquiry to address how these issues relate to violence against Indigenous women and girls.”

The Federal government has named a 5-member commission led by Marion Buller Bennett. Marion Bennett is B.C.’s first female First Nations judge.  She brought to light that the mainstream court system has not worked for Aboriginals in the past and articulated the specific gaps in our knowledge that an inquiry serves to address:

“The families who feel the death of their loved ones were called a suicide or an accident or an overdose as opposed to a murder, those patterns are the kinds of things the commissioners will have to look into.”

Michele Audette is a leading women’s First Nations advocate and former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.  When asked why an Inquiry was necessary, she pointed out that the numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women have been increasing, and that the relationship between Aboriginal women and the police needs to be addressed.  When asked what’s behind the disproportionate numbers of missing women, she said:

“Racism, discrimination.  We are a target.  Because we are Aboriginal women, we are a target.”

Qajaq Robinson is a Nunavut-born Ottawa-based lawyer specializing in Aboriginal issues and land and treaty claims. She represented Ian Campeau in filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal about the Redskins Football Club name in Ottawa. When asked how she felt about the harassment she and her client received, she responded:

“It was worth it, hearing accounts from residential school survivors who had that term used on them and their accounts of feeling so weak and vulnerable and unable to fight against that.”

Marilyn Pointras is a constitutional and Aboriginal law expert at the University of Saskatchewan.  She has expressed her disappointment with the lack of representation of Aboriginal people in legal decisions in Canada:

“The country is losing out on the opportunity to gain from Indigenous perspectives on everything from sentencing to the factors that lead to crime. When you start to incorporate Indigenous thinking into the justice model, you start talking a lot more about preventative measures and that’s where we should be taking things.”

Brian Eyolfson is a First Nations and human rights lawyer and former vice-chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.  Mr. Eyolfson has worked for Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto and represented that group at the Ipperwash inquiry, which sought justice for the murder of Aboriginal activist Dudley George.

We are pleased to see Aboriginal women are well-represented on the Commission, and that federal resources are being attended to this very pressing issue, which Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has called a “national tragedy, but an international shame.”

For more information about the Inquiry, please visit https://nwac.ca/mmiwg.  For more information about prostitution from a local abolitionist perspective, please visit http://www.sextrade101.com, the Toronto Sex Trade Survivors and Abolitionists Organization.

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Impressions of IWD Toronto 2016

 IWD participants gather outside of OISE before the march.
IWD participants gather blurrily outside of OISE before the march.

The annual International Women’s Day march was held yesterday here in Toronto, drawing a turnout of around 3,000, according to CityNews.  Two of our members attended part of the rally and the march from OISE at the University of Toronto to the Student Campus Centre at Ryerson University.  Following are the impressions of one member speaking as a radical/socialist feminist, and not claiming to speak for every member of RFU.  These impressions come with the caveat that, due to the adventure of commuting by TTC on weekends, I missed most of the rally (up to the point of the final set of speakers) and did not visit every table at the fair.  

The Good:

  • The proletarian history of IWD was highly visible with various socialist/Marxist/communist groups present, and working class issues made central.  Many union and industry worker groups were behind banners, as well as 15 & Fairness, which aims to raise the minimum wage to $15 and create better conditions for low-income workers (we were near a Chinese contingent of this group that increased access to their message by carrying Chinese language signs).
  • The international intent of the day was not just lip service.  Groups representing workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Latin America, etc. were in the march.  (We were behind the Communist Party of Iraq, whose slogans included “No to Discriminating [Against] Women in Iraq,” “No to Iraqi Personal Code, which is inspired by Sharia,” and “Separation of Religion is the demand of Iraqi mass.”) Canadian First Nations women were at the forefront with Idle No More and demands for the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
  • After a great disappointment with Take Back the Night 2014 being used as a pulpit for the prostitution lobby, I had low expectations for acceptance of the sex commodification industry in large mainstream ‘feminist’ demonstrations like this one.  However, I did not personally see this happening at IWD.
  • IWD hasn’t been taken over by corporate interests like Pride unfortunately has (I say that as someone who marched in World Pride 2014).
  • There was some opportunity to carry forward with activism (more about my issues with this subject below).  The most concrete example of one organization giving women the means to do something tangible was the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.  They handed out stickers to put on TTC and street ads for crisis pregnancy centres in order to warn women that these organizations are anti-choice.
  • The march generated a lot of interest (and surprise) from people on the street.  I only heard one person yelling at us that we’re slaves and should go to hell or something.

The Not So Good:

  • As a proletarian event, I felt that the focus on women and the roots of our oppression was sometimes lost.  Women’s lived realities are of course inseparable from our class, race, immigration status, and so on, but women’s activism is uniquely expected to cater to every other issue, even if it means putting our oppression as women last on our list of concerns.
  • There was not as much female-erasing / trans-centric language as I feared, but there was a general lack of identifying the source of women’s oppression: patriarchy and men as a class.  What appeared to be the overarching theme of “No More Violence, No More Hate” does not name the perpetrator and holds no one accountable for misogyny.  The (hundreds) of men who attended got to pat themselves on the back for their participation without having to consider–much less change–their own misogynistic thoughts and behaviour.  In fact, there was so much focus on labour issues that it would be easy to march without having to think about women much at all.
  • Though I didn’t see pro-prostitution and porn messages at the march, I also didn’t see anything calling them out as violence against women.  (Please comment below if you saw messages about the ‘sex’ industry in either direction!)
  • Amnesty International was there.
  • This may be an inherent challenge for rallies and demonstrations like this, but I left with little sense of what we can do going forward other than “donate money” and the questionably effective “sign this petition.”  Consciousness-raising has long been a central component of radical feminism, so I respect that it’s necessary, but we can’t stop there.

Overall, it was encouraging to see everyone coming together in good spirits with some class consciousness and the desire to amplify the voices of marginalized women, but I left ambivalent about the effectiveness of the day.  To elaborate on my last point, as a radical/socialist feminist, I want to leave an event with the feeling that something has been accomplished, or the sense of a concrete plan going forward.  I didn’t leave feeling this way, but I hope that other women did.  I hope that they discovered new groups and women to build community with.  I hope that they find a way to engage with feminist activism that doesn’t set women back with empowerful pole dancing and Slutwalking.  I hope that the events of the day will inspire women to actually get involved with feminism, and not just stick on the label because the label is all the rage these days.

If you attended (or if you didn’t) and this post has clicked with you, please feel free to contact us via comment or email.  Let’s get together and plan the smashing of patriarchy!