TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian police have failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings, disappearances and extreme forms of violence, a U.S.-based human rights group said on Monday.
The damning 127-page report by the branch of the Organization of American States said police failure and systemic discrimination against Canada’s Aboriginal community has contributed to the plight of missing or murdered indigenous women and the poverty that is at the root of the violence.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said last May that 1,017 Aboriginal women had been murdered between 1980 and 2012. Another 108 are missing under suspicious circumstances, with some cases dating back to 1952.
“According to the information received, the police have failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings and disappearances, extreme forms of violence, and have failed to diligently and promptly investigate these acts,” the report said.
It also said addressing violence against women is not sufficient unless the underlying factors of discrimination that originate and exacerbate the violence are also addressed, ideally through an national inquiry or action plan.
That contradicts the view of Canada’s Conservative government, which has said the disproportionate violence against Aboriginal women and girls is a criminal, not a sociological, problem that would not be helped by a national inquiry.
A spokeswoman for Kellie Leitch, minister for the status of women, said the government was reviewing the report.
The two-year investigation by the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was requested by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which hopes the recommendations will pressure Ottawa into action.
“These women and girls are being stolen from our families, from our communities, and it is time that somebody is taking this seriously,” Aboriginal advocate and NWAC vice-president Dawn Harvard told a news conference in Ottawa.
The native women’s association has said only 53 percent of murder cases involving indigenous women and girls have led to charges of homicide, while 40 percent of murder cases remain unsolved. That compares with an 84 percent clearance rate for homicides in Canada as a whole.
Among its recommendations, the group said Canada needed improved police training and oversight, better data collection, and better coordination between different levels of government to counter the problem.
Canada’s 1.4 million Aboriginals have higher levels of poverty and a lower life expectancy than other Canadians, and are more often victims of violent crime.
Less than half live on reserves, and Aboriginal children make up nearly half of all Canadian children aged 14 and under living in foster care, according to Statistics Canada.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Alan Crosby