#WPSAdvice: Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and the MMIWG Report

By Margaret Jenkins and Monique Cuillerier

Margaret Jenkins is an academic and consultant who has been a Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy at Central European University and held research fellowships at Harvard’s Women and Public Policy Programme and at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security. Monique Cuillerier is the Membership and Communications Director for the World Federalist Movement – Canada (@WFMCanada).

At international meetings focused on women, peace and security, Canada is often heralded as a leader given its Feminist Foreign Policy and the commitments espoused in the Canadian National Action Plan (2017-2022) for the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. 

This conception of Canada is difficult to reconcile with the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).  After nearly 3 years of activity across Canada, the Inquiry came “to the conclusion that violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people amounts to genocide.” It also suggested that Canada may have committed crimes against humanity and that its behaviour is in “breach of Canada’s international obligations, triggering its responsibility under international law.” 

The National Inquiry was mandated by the government in September 2016 to report on “all forms of violence” against Indigenous women and girls in Canada. The Inquiry interpreted this broadly, investigating “sexual violence, family violence, institutional racism in health care, child welfare, policing and the justice system, and other forms of violence, such as negligence, accidents or suicide” involving Indigenous women and girls. The Commissioners also chose to include First Nations, Métis, and Inuit gender-diverse and non-binary people, represented by the acronym 2SLGBTQQIA (Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual as part of the inquiry. 

The Inquiry faced many challenges. Some Commissioners complained of government influence frustrating its efforts and effectiveness. Many top officials and lawyers resigned. The Inquiry’s decision to label the violence “genocide” was controversial among some human rights lawyers and others sympathetic to the Inquiry’s objectives and findings. Although the two volume report included more than 1000 pages and 231 Calls for Justice, the “genocide” label has dominated the national discussion and international media attention since the report’s launch in June 2019. 

For those of us who work on gender, peace and security issues abroad, and who monitor Canada’s fulfillment of commitments spelled out in its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (CNAP), the MMIWG Report begs the question: How should Canada’s efforts to implement its NAP and be a global leader on women, peace and security be affected by charges that it was complicit in genocide against women and girls within its own borders? 

First, connections between MMIWG and CNAP should be institutionalized to facilitate the sharing of best practices and innovative policy and programmatic ideas related to gender, violence and security. Silos between those who work on MMIWG-related issues domestically and those who focus on the “women, peace and security agenda” abroad should be breached so that we can learn from each other’s work and identify and harness synergies that can bolster progress related to both MMIWG and CNAP objectives. 

One way to do this is to encourage CNAP Advisory Group members to discuss the MMIWG Report and MMIWG-related work at CNAP meetings. The RCMP, which is one of the lead implementing partners of the CNAP, as well as supporting partners, such as Status of Women Canada (SWC), the Department of Justice, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) are key institutions for responding to the findings and calls from the MMIWG Inquiry. As these institutions articulate their response to the MMIWG Report, implement relevant initiatives, and report on progress, this information should be shared with CNAP stakeholders. The idea is to identify and harness opportunities for CNAP work and Women, Peace and Security (WPS) expertise to speak to, and make progress on MMIWG, and vice versa. 

Opening these channels is important because in many respects, MMIWG and CNAP are two sides of the same coin, and have shared objectives. Both the MMIWG and CNAP, for example, call for increasing the meaningful and equal participation of those often on the sidelines of governance and decision-making. The MMIWG Inquiry calls “upon all governments to equitably support and promote the role of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people in governance and leadership” (1.4). One of the key objectives of the CNAP is to “increase the meaningful participation of women, women’s organizations and networks in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict statebuilding.” Those working on these issues would benefit from learning from each other about concrete initiatives and best practices related to inclusion. 

Although this may come across as adding to the workload of CNAP reporting, the aim is instead to recognize the interdependence between domestic and foreign policies related to gender, peace and security. Canada’s interest in supporting feminist policies and programs at a global level can only be strengthened (and may only be possible) by building more just, effective and feminist domestic policies. Although the CNAP is primarily a foreign policy document, this reveals more a limitation and problem with the current CNAP than a legitimate curtailing of scope. There are many domestic changes that need to be made to ensure progress on CNAP objectives, and strong linkages with the Calls for Justice outlined in the MMIWG report. For example, the MMIWG Inquiry calls on Police Services to provide for the “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.” Gender and other biases outlined by the MMIWG Inquiry with respect to security services do not disappear when uniformed personnel are deployed abroad. Peacekeepers are rarely career peacekeepers–they work within domestic police forces and in national militaries. Thousands of Canadian police officers have been deployed abroad to serve on UN and other missions. The training called for by the MMIWG Inquiry would also build police capacity to sensitively respond to gender and cultural issues, as well as trauma while deployed abroad. 

Second, although the synergies between CNAP and MMIWG should be identified and harnessed, the incoming government will need to implement policies and programs beyond the CNAP to make progress on the issues identified by the MMIWG. CNAP should not be the lead (or only) policy document guiding MMIWG response. The CNAP, inspired by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent WPS resolutions, focuses on Canada’s role in promoting gender equality and addressing women’s rights in “countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence.” It concentrates on gender issues pertaining to conflict resolution, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and post-conflict state-building abroad. While it is tempting perhaps to expand the CNAP objectives to cover all domestic issues related to gender, violence and security (including domestic violence in Canada), this may lead to a bulky document, with implementation plans that are too unwieldy and numerous to monitor effectively. Recommendations from MMIWG include a National Action Plan focused on addressing violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and the establishment of an Indigenous Human Rights Tribunal and a National Indigenous and Human Rights Ombudsperson as well as other measures. 

Third, as these proposals are being considered, emphasis should be on evidence-based policy making and program development. It is up to all Canadians to make sure that what looks good politically is aligned with policies and programs make real progress in addressing the challenges faced by Indigenous girls and women and 2SLGBTQQIA people in their daily lives. Research, monitoring and evaluation that draws on rigorous qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis is needed to ensure next steps deliver.  We need to know whether fewer Indigenous women and girls go missing and are murdered, and whether the political and economic opportunities and security of Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people improve as a result of program and policy interventions. If not, this learning needs to urgently inform innovation and change in order to achieve results. This interest echoes sentiments raised by those monitoring CNAP implementation.

Finally, the incoming government should continue to show the world that acknowledging domestic injustices is the right thing to do, and model how a country moves forward. When Prime Minister Trudeau, at the opening of the UN General Assembly in 2017,  called the “failure of successive Canadian governments to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada…our great shame” many were surprised that a country would use the UN pulpit to draw attention to deficiencies in its own human rights record. This is rarely done. Yet, all countries have injustices in their history that underlie current practices and policies. These often involve women, Indigenous peoples and minorities. Canada should aim to be a model of how a country actively responds to both domestic and international injustice–by listening to those affected most, and achieving results.  In this regard, the MMIWG Inquiry provides an invaluable contribution. 

Please note that the views in these blog posts are those of the authors and may not represent the views of all members of the WPSN-C.