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On November 15, 2019, a 23-year-old Inuk woman named Tama Bennett was found deceased in a wooded area near Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador, 400km from her home. Just hours later, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) issued a report stating that “the death was not considered suspicious”.

The Nunatsiavut Government is calling for an independent police investigation. Johannes Lampe, president of Nunatsiavut, stated “We have reason to believe the RCMP made assumptions as to the cause of death before carrying out a thorough investigation.” Would a non-Indigenous woman’s death have been treated this way by the RCMP?

Exactly two month later, on January 17, 2020, the RCMP provided an update stating that they had just received the autopsy report and that the investigation remains ongoing and cause of death is undetermined.

This lack of responsiveness by the RCMP is a demonstration of the continued devaluing and dehumanization of Indigenous lives. These harmful police practices create further challenges in the relationship between Indigenous communities and the RCMP. They fail to protect Indigenous communities, and perpetuate violence against Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirited Peoples. YWCA Canada supports Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe along with community in Labrador, on the call for an independent investigation.

On June 03, 2019 the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released. The report includes many recommendations to help address violence directed at Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual) people. We encourage the RCMP to review the Final Report and implement the Calls for Justice, including but not limited to, Calls 9.1, 9.2, 9.5, and 9.6 (enclosed).

As stated in the Final Report, the number of missing and murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirited peoples in Canada is disproportionately high. Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered and missing than any other women in Canada, and 16 times more likely than White women. Statistics also reveal that Indigenous women consistently experience higher rates and more severe forms of physical assault and robbery than other groups in Canada. Indigenous women are also sexually assaulted three times more often than non-Indigenous women, and most of the women and children trafficked in Canada are Indigenous.

Because on this ongoing violence, it is important for us to continuously ask what the RCMP have learned from the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and what the RCMP are doing to address systemic racism, sexism, discrimination and biases.

 

Calls for Police Services:

9.1 We call upon all police services and justice system actors to acknowledge that the historical and current relationship between Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people and the justice system has been largely defined by colonialism, racism, bias, discrimination, and fundamental cultural and societal differences. We further call upon all police services and justice system actors to acknowledge that, going forward, this relationship must be based on respect and understanding, and must be led by, and in partnerships with, Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

9.2 We call upon all actors in the justice system, including police services, to build respectful working relationships with Indigenous Peoples by knowing, understanding, and respecting the people they are serving. Initiatives and actions should include, but are not limited to, the following measures:

  • Review and revise all policies, practices, and procedures to ensure service delivery that is culturally appropriate and reflects no bias or racism toward Indigenous Peoples, including victims and survivors of violence.
  • Establish engagement and partnerships with Indigenous Peoples, communities, and leadership, including women, Elders, youth, and 2SLGBTQQIA people from the respective territories and who are resident within a police service’s jurisdiction.
  • Ensure appropriate Indigenous representation, including Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, on police services boards and oversight authorities.
  • Undertake training and education of all staff and officers so that they understand and implement culturally appropriate and trauma-informed practices, especially when dealing with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.

9.5 We call upon all police services for the standardization of protocols for policies and practices that ensure that all cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are thoroughly investigated. This includes the following measures:

  • Establish a communication protocol with Indigenous communities to inform them of policies, practices, and programs that make the communities safe.
  • Improve communication between police and families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people from the first report, with regular and ongoing communication throughout the investigation.
  • Improve coordination across government departments and between jurisdictions and Indigenous communities and police services.
  • Recognize that the high turnover among officers assigned to a missing and murdered

Indigenous woman’s, girl’s, or 2SLGBTQQIA person’s file may negatively impact both progress on the investigation and relationships with family members; police services must have robust protocols to mitigate these impacts.

  • Create a national strategy, through the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, to ensure consistency in reporting mechanisms for reporting missing Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This could be developed in conjunction with implementation of a national database.
  • Establish standardized response times to reports of missing Indigenous persons and women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people experiencing violence, and conduct a regular audit of response times to monitor and provide feedback for improvement.
  • Lead the provincial and territorial governments to establish a nationwide emergency number.

9.6 We call upon all police services to establish an independent, special investigation unit for the investigation of incidents of failures to investigate, police misconduct, and all forms of discriminatory practices and mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples within their police service. This special investigation unit must be transparent in practice and report at least annually to Indigenous communities, leadership, and people in their jurisdiction.

 

Resources:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/tama-bennett-jenny-bennett-vigil-1.5367382

https://www.ctvnews.ca/mobile/canada/concerns-raised-after-inuk-woman-s-death-deemed-not-suspicious-by-police-1.4694415?fbclid=IwAR1GuDlaVLxe5VXYDBRa9BNPtKdSvGeEinBngtGMWWz9nsEh72uGGuKBBVA

https://www.thetelegram.com/news/provincial/labrador-womans-cause-of-death-ruled-undetermined-399722/

https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/

https://www.nunatsiavut.com/article/nunatsiavut-government-calls-for-independent-investigation-into-death-of-inuk-woman/

http://www.firstnationsdrum.com/2019/11/nunatsiavut-government-calls-for-independent-investigation-into-death-of-inuk-woman/

Resources

Final Report - National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada - Calls to Action