The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is looking into the unsolved murders and disappearances of hundreds of aboriginal women over several years, though the federal government denied it was an outright inquiry.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) announced on December 13 that CEDAW had agreed to conduct an inquiry into the unsolved murders and disappearances of hundreds of aboriginal women over the past several years. But Rona Ambrose, the country’s Status of Women Minister, said the committee had only written them a letter, without announcing a formal inquiry.
"At this stage we've received a letter from the committee at the United Nations and we're responding to that," Ambrose said Tuesday during question period, according to CBC News. "I understand from Foreign Affairs that two civil society groups have made a request to a United Nations committee, the committee [is] looking into it and they'll be discussing it in February," Ambrose said.
What is not in question is that NWAC and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) had asked back in January and again in September for the committee to launch an official inquiry. Because Canada is a signatory of the treaty, the two groups said in a joint release, the Optional Protocol to the Convention, the Committee is authorized to investigate allegations of “grave or systematic” violations of the Convention by means of an inquiry.
CEDAW comprises 23 independent experts from around the world and is the U.N.’s main authority on women’s human rights.
Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose says a United Nations committee has written to the Canadian government about the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, but denied reports that the committee has begun an official investigation.
“FAFIA and NWAC requested this Inquiry because violence against Aboriginal women and girls is a national tragedy that demands immediate and concerted action,” said NWAC Jeannette Corbiere Lavell in the groups’ statement.
“Aboriginal women in Canada experience rates of violence 3.5 times higher than non-aboriginal women, and young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die of violence,” she said. “NWAC has documented the disappearances and murders of over 600 aboriginal women and girls in Canada over about twenty years, and we believe that there may be many more. The response of law enforcement and other government officials has been slow, often dismissive of reports made by family members of missing women, uncoordinated and generally inadequate.”
The government of British Columbia has been holding hearings about serial killer Robert Pickton and why he was allowed to operate unfettered for years. But that deals only with one set of victims and does not specifically address the wider issue.
Read more on the issue of Canada's missing and murdered women here.