National MMIWG action plan released with short-term goals, federal support

Two years after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls issued 213 calls for justice, the national action plan to address the violence, racism and disproportionate deaths of Indigenous women and girls in Canada has been released, outlining both short-term priorities and years-long commitments for change.

In a 113-page document worked on by the federal government in collaboration with the National Families and Survivors Circle, Indigenous communities, and other levels of government, there are seven categories of short-term priorities that are intended to be worked on over the next three years.

Among the short-term priorities:

  • Launching public education campaigns on the issues Indigenous people experience and initiating Indigenous-led cultural initiatives;
  • Setting up trauma-informed training for those who work with Indigenous people, 24-hour mental health and addictions supports, victim services, as well as healing programs for impacted families of missing and murdered Indigenous loved ones;
  • Creating shelters, sustainable housing, access to high-speed internet, and a guaranteed annual livable income;
  • Recognizing across levels of governments “Indigenous self-determination and inherent jurisdiction over child welfare”;
  • Establishing oversight bodies to represent families and survivors’ complaints, a national task force to re-investigate unresolved files, and a justice-reform committee to review existing legislation; and
  • Addressing data collection issues related to missing and murdered women, girls and LGBTQ2S folks, setting up a deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections, and collect disaggregated and intersectional data about Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S+ people in the criminal justice system.

It is not clear from the document whether these priorities will fall to specific jurisdictions to act on, with the report committing to develop an “implementation plan,” as well as annual progress reports starting in 2022.

“The national action plan is not intended to be a final plan but one that is evergreen and requires monitoring and reporting on progress, as well as further co-development and course correction as required,” it reads.

During a press conference on that province’s vaccine rollout, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said that his government is committed to taking “concrete steps” to respond to the calls for justice and to work with Indigenous people to end the violence.

The ultimate goal of the plan is to “achieve the vision of a Canada where Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, wherever they are, live free from violence, and are celebrated, honoured, respected, valued, safe, and secure.”

This comes as key Indigenous stakeholders have spoken out about the need for immediate action during Thursday morning’s virtual event unveiling the national action plan.

Saying that while the work is still far from complete, Assembly of First Nations Women’s Council member Louisa Housty-Jones said the implementation of this national action plan will need inclusion, transparency, representation, and political will.

“We have taken to heart what has been shared with us, and we will ensure that these important contributions from survivors and loved ones of those who have gone missing and been murdered, are integrated into the national action plan, as it continues to be developed,” she said. “I sincerely hope that this will be the turning point for change, for action, support, and justice.”

In an interview on CTV News Channel, Denise Pictou-Maloney, co-chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, said that Canada has a “big opportunity” with so much awareness following the discovery of 215 Indigenous children’s remains on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

“We're all relatives of those 215 babies. We have 4,000 plus women who never got to go home. That's what this is about,” Pictou-Maloney said. “We are at an opportunity to really start working towards educating ourselves and making sure that the original peoples of this country are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

FEDERAL RESPONSE

Alongside the overall national plan, the federal government has issued a 30-page “federal pathway” report focused on Government of Canada actions to be taken and outlining its next steps.

In the federal plan, the Liberal government vows broadly to fund new and ongoing initiatives, work with Indigenous communities to end all forms of discrimination, uphold Indigenous rights, and improve Indigenous socio-economic conditions. It also details steps taken already through legislation and other policy changes.

While the “federal pathway” document does not contain specific dollar figures, the federal government has provided a breakdown of the funding which was issued as part of the April federal budget.

Overall, the federal government has budgeted $2.2 billion in the 2021 budget to be spent over the next five years and $160.9 million per year on an ongoing basis to address the commitments related to the MMIWG national inquiry.

In terms of specific commitments, the government has several, broken down by themes:

  • Cultural changes, such as preserving languages and promoting Indigenous arts, sports, and media. A total of $453.1 million has been allocated for these initiatives.
  • Health and wellness changes, such as Indigenous-led services, and addressing racism within the health system. A total of $139.2 million has been allocated for these initiatives.
  • Safety and human security changes, such as addressing human trafficking and mitigating the impacts of natural resource developments. A total of $861 million has been allocated for these initiatives.
  • Justice changes, such as breaking down barriers and systemic racism within the justice system, establishing national standards regarding missing persons, and co-developing Indigenous policing legislation. A total of $74.8 million has been allocated for these initiatives.

Relatedly, the government’s also set aside $36.3 million over the next five years for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to “enhance support for Indigenous women's and 2SLGBTQQIA+ organizations, ensuring that the voices and perspectives of Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people are reflected in all aspects of decision-making that impacts their lives.”

And another $20.3 million has been allocated to be spent over the next five years to “ensure that appropriate monitoring mechanisms are in place to measure progress and to keep the government accountable, now and in the future”

“Violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in Canada is an ongoing national tragedy that needs to end,” said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett in a statement.

Bennett is planning to speak more about the federal approach to address the problem and take reporters’ questions on Friday.

Participating in the release of the national action plan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Thursday’s reports “a step forward together to make the transformative change necessary to end this national tragedy,” and said “all Canadians must stand with Indigenous peoples against injustice.”

The government is vowing to set up performance indicators and to release annual progress reports on its work.

ACTION PROMISED IN 2019

On June 3, 2019, the families of the Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered across Canada joined Indigenous leaders and federal officials to mark the end of National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The top-line finding of the inquiry was that Canada’s has perpetuated violations of Indigenous people, including “assimilationist and genocidal government laws” leading to high rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S+ people.

With the release of the 1,200 page final report in 2019, emotions were raw and there was hope there would be imminent movement on the recommendations for action within that report after families for decades sought to draw national attention to the higher rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S+ people. The action plan was initially expected in 2020.

According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous women and girls represented are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than non-Indigenous women in Canada.

The recommendations included creating an ombudsperson and tribunal for Indigenous and human rights, long-term funding for education and awareness programs related to preventing violence, policing and criminal justice reforms, and stopping the apprehension of children based on poverty and cultural bias.

Trudeau pledged at that event that the families had his word: “that my government will turn the inquiry’s calls for justice into real, meaningful, Indigenous-led action.”

CRITICS SAY IT FALLS SHORT

However, responding to a copy of the national action plan obtained by CTV News on Wednesday, critics and families still waiting for answers about their missing loved ones said that the plan disappointingly lacks action, is too broad, and lacks clear financial commitments or timelines.

Further, following the release of the national action plan and the “federal pathway” report, both the Conservative and NDP critics expressed frustration.

“Rather than delivering a comprehensive plan to address the horrors of violence on Indigenous women and girls, the Liberals produced a plan of inaction with rehashed announcements,” said Conservative MP and Crown-Indigenous relations critic Jamie Schmale in a statement.

NDP MP and women and gender equality critic Lindsay Mathyssen said that more should have been actioned by now.

“It’s been two years since the MMIWG report was tabled, and today’s plan only outlines broad goals with little action attached. The plan includes annual progress report which won’t start for another year. Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people will continue without justice while the Liberal government drag their feet,” she said in a statement.

Ahead of the plan’s release, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) walked away from what they called a “fundamentally flawed” process they had lost confidence in.

Instead, NWAC and some longtime activists said they plan to take matters into their own hands by raising funds and gathering support among Indigenous communities to take their own actions, including a compensation fund for families and survivors.

In an interview on CTV News Channel on Thursday, NWAC CEO Lynne Groulx said she thinks the federal government is “minimizing” its role by issuing its own 30-page pathways report.

“We are very concerned to have seen the government's portion, their pathways document, not have clear initiatives, clear timelines, a clear understanding of who's responsible, and a detailed costing of that,” she said. “We do not feel that this pathways document has the concrete actions that are needed to address the 231 calls for justice.”

With files from CTV National News’ Jill Macyshon and Annie Bergeron-Oliver.

---------

There is a support line available for those impacted by missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S+ people: 1-844-413-6649.

Additional mental-health and community-based emotional support and cultural services are also available through the federal government.