Yes, Mr. Harper, #MMIW is a sociological phenomenon

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: flickr/Thien

The Inter‑American 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 on Monday 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 Inter‑American 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 Inter‑American 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 Inter‑American 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 Inter‑American 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 Inter‑American 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 Inter‑American Commission also strongly supports a nation‑wide 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 long‑standing 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.

For background on the IACHR investigation, click here.

This piece originally appeared on Blogging for Equality.

Photo: flickr/Thien

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.