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Dear Mr. Harper, we need to talk about violence against Indigenous women

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Letter to Prime Minister Harper on the issue of violence against Indigenous women

March 7, 2014
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P. 
Prime Minister of Canada
Langevin Block
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

The recent violent death of Loretta Saunders, an Innu woman in Nova Scotia, has compelled Greenpeace to share our perspectives on violence against Indigenous women in Canada, how they relate to environmental responsibility and to specifically call on your government to develop a comprehensive national response to this problem that affects all people in Canada.

It is well documented that there exists a disproportionate incidence of violence against Indigenous women in Canada. Indigenous women and girls are far more likely than non-Indigenous women and girls to be a victim of violent crime and homicide and disproportionately outnumber others among long-term missing persons cases, where studies are done.[1234]

Violence against Indigenous women and girls is rooted in racism, patriarchy and poverty. The ongoing effects of colonization in Canada have left Indigenous women at higher risk for exploitation and discrimination and with lower access to the services needed to get away from violence and exploitation.[5] There have been no less than three international human rights missions to Canada in the last year to investigate violence against Indigenous women.

The unsolved death of Bella Laboucan-McLean in Toronto and the most recent tragic news of Loretta Saunders' murder in Halifax are just two among hundreds of Indigenous women that are missing or murdered in Canada.

For Greenpeace, violence against Indigenous women is a serious human rights issue that impinges on fundamental rights, enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and United Nations Declarations, to safety, freedom from violence and mobility.

We recognize that the current state of environmental, economic and social un-sustainability has, in great part, been caused by the heedless exploitation of traditional territories where Indigenous peoples have been ignored and their authority eroded. Greenpeace respects Indigenous rights and supports the just settlement of outstanding Aboriginal Rights and Title issues as an integral part of the process of developing an ecologically and socially sustainable society with equitable outcomes for all.

The lack of a comprehensive national action plan by the Canadian government to address the murdered and missing Indigenous women is a block that stands in the way of meaningful reconciliation between First Nations, governments and the rest of Canada, which is a critical step to our country moving forward in a genuine way on other justice and environmental issues such as climate change and biodiversity conservation.

Therefore, Greenpeace is calling on the Canadian government to enact a national response that is comprehensive, coordinated and developed in collaboration with Indigenous women and girls themselves. This requires the creation, resourcing and implementation of a national action plan, which would include a national public inquiry, to end violence against indigenous women and girls. Canada has constitutionally held rights to uphold and international human rights commitments to meet, such as Millennium Development Goals that include adequately resourced National Action Plans to end violence against women adopted and underway by 2015.[67]

Greenpeace is not alone and not the first to make such a call for action. We are adding our voice to many others, such as the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, Amnesty International and many others that are demanding a comprehensive response to this gender and race-based violence. It is our hope and expectation that your government will be spurred to action by the growing community in Canada calling for a comprehensive national action plan.

Thank you for your attention to our perspectives. Should you want to discuss this issue, please contact Laura Yates at layates@greenpeace.org to schedule a meeting.

Sincerely,
Joanna Kerr
Executive Director

Melina Laboucan-Massimo
Tar Sands Campaigner

Shamentsut Slhanay
Climate & Energy Campaigner

Kiera Kolson
Arctic Campaigner

Stephanie Goodwin
B.C. Director

Cc: Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice
Kellie Leitch, Minister of Status of Women
Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment
Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Thomas Mulcair, M.P., leader of Official Opposition
Justin Trudeau, M.P., leader of Liberal Party of Canada

1 Shannon Brennan, Violent Victimization of Aboriginal Women in the Canadian Provinces (Statistics Canada, 2011), www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2011001/article/11439-eng.htm.
2 Vivian O’Donnell and Susan Wallace, Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report: First Nations, Inuit and Métis Women (Statistics Canada, 2011), www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11442-eng.pdf.
3 Saskatchewan Provincial Partnership Committee on Missing Persons, Final Report (October 2007),www.justice.gov.sk.ca/adx/aspx/adxGetMedia.aspx?DocID=3025,104,81,1,Documents&MediaID=1615&Filename=missing-persons-final.pdf.
4 Native Women's Association of Canada, What their voices tell us: Research findings from the Sisters in Spirit Initiative (March 2010),www.nwac.ca/sites/default/files/reports/2010_NWAC_SIS_Report_EN.pdf.
5 Amnesty International, No More Stolen Sisters: The Need for a Comprehensive Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada (2009).
6 Committee on the Status of Women, Called into the Night: An Overview of Violence Against Aboriginal Women, Interim Report, March 2011.
7 http://endviolence.un.org.

This open letter orignally appeared on Greenpeace Canada.

Photo: flickr/Renegade98

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