[Witness spoke in Innu]
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, elected officials and members of Parliament.
Thank you for including Quebec Native Women Inc. in this discussion. Keeping my presentation to seven minutes will be challenging, so I'm going to read it very quickly.
Racism is a historical process that relies on social constructs based on prejudices against certain individuals or groups of individuals. Racism becomes systemic when the institutions tied to a social construct or a state reproduce discriminatory behaviour towards certain individuals or groups of individuals in society on the basis of race or, in our case, indigenous identity. By reproducing this behaviour, the institutions normalize and embody discrimination.
Systemic racism against first nations, Inuit and Métis populations is inextricably linked to colonialism, which perpetuated views, a way of thinking and preconceived notions about indigenous people, generally, without distinguishing between different peoples and nations, and about indigenous women, specifically.
Colonialism and its racist and patriarchal ideas gave rise to many types of systemic discrimination against indigenous peoples, and especially, indigenous women. The agents of colonialism imposed patriarchal social constructs, mainly through policies and legislation such as the Indian Act. Along with those social constructs, another concept was imposed: the superiority of the culture and economic system of the colonizers and the inferiority of the culture and economic system of indigenous peoples and, by extension, the inferiority of indigenous peoples, themselves.
Although colonialism impacted both men and women, the effects were not the same. Colonization was a gendered process that produced insidious stereotypes about indigenous women, objectifying them. This has resulted in indigenous women being doubly discriminated against; in addition to racism, they endure sexism. These stereotypes are rooted in the European vision of the indigenous woman as either a wild and shameless person, a prostitute, a bad mother or an ugly person incapable of feeling or morality.
These characteristics, which were deemed deviant, were the justification for numerous policies, the most significant being the Indian Act, a law that discriminates against women by perpetuating pre-Confederation stereotypes of indigenous women. The law upholds the idea that the indigenous identity of women and their descendants is less worthy than that of men and their descendants.
The fact that these policies, which include the Indian Act, reflect Canada's official views has allowed sexism and racism to become internalized, so much so that the stereotypes are virtually immune to social influences that could challenge or weaken them. Precisely because the country's policies uphold these stereotypes, they justify and perpetuate the oppression of indigenous women, who are not viewed as equal in relation to the rest of society.
Colonialism, systemic racism and sexism contribute to the marginalization of indigenous women, within both their communities and colonial society. Consequently, this marginalization has made indigenous women vulnerable to both emotional and physical violence, and put them at risk of being killed. They are subjected to violence in disproportionate numbers on a systemic basis. The prejudices embodied in government policies are present throughout state institutions, particularly the police, as well as colonial society and indigenous communities, and as such, provide the justification for acts of aggression. Racism and sexism against indigenous women are present in police forces and can be seen in the abuse of discretionary authority, discrimination and assault involving indigenous women.
Under international human rights law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the state has an obligation and a responsibility to ensure that police protect the members of the public, especially indigenous women, and that public protection measures are in place.
What do you do, then, when agents of the state contribute to your lack of safety? When a police officer assaults an indigenous woman, the responsibility is on the state to make sure it does not go unpunished. However, when arresting indigenous women, police not only have too much discretion, which all too often leads to the abuse of power and violence, but also, and more importantly, enjoy total impunity when they assault indigenous women.
The reports of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Viens commission, as well as the briefs submitted by Quebec Native Women Inc. to an array of committees and commissions, contain numerous personal accounts attesting to police brutality. It ranges from excessive force and sexual abuse to inappropriate behaviour, disproportionate responses and threats.
Situations where men in positions of authority abuse their power to assault Aboriginal women are a tangible demonstration of the effect of systemic racism at its most extreme. As well, these testimonies point to police failures that affect Aboriginal women. Aboriginal women are more vulnerable to police inaction and failure to assist someone in danger than non-Aboriginal women, particularly in cases of sexual violence.
There are also reports of geographical cures and racial profiling leading, for example, to arrests deemed abusive and discriminatory. These abusive acts stem from police discretion and a sense of impunity because the justice system does not treat these women equally. Due to historical trauma and perceptions of state actors, aboriginal women are continually stigmatized and viewed by the justice system as women with substance use or other social problems. As a result, they are not seen as credible or worthy victims.
The security protection system is ineffective and deficient when it comes to aboriginal women. I point to the case of this first nations woman in need of medical assistance and intervention, who found herself in front of 17 police officers with a dog squad after dialling 911, and the murder of Chantel Moore, who was found killed by the police officer who was conducting a welfare check.
The relationship of aboriginal girls and women with police forces is central to the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal girls and women. Inadequate police behaviour and responses must be taken into account in understanding this phenomenon. Families of missing or murdered persons do not trust the police because of their indifference, incompetence or misconduct towards them.
Indeed, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has collected many testimonies exposing the stereotypes that are attached to the disappearance of aboriginal women and girls. Many parents have testified before the National Inquiry about the services they received when they wanted to report their teenage daughter’s—