Protecting Indigenous women a priority for city MP


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OTTAWA — A Winnipeg MP has convinced her peers to launch hearings on the role of resource development in violence against Indigenous women, which might shed more light on sexual violence at remote Manitoba Hydro sites.

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This article was published 02/05/2022 (327 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — A Winnipeg MP has convinced her peers to launch hearings on the role of resource development in violence against Indigenous women, which might shed more light on sexual violence at remote Manitoba Hydro sites.

“The discussion about the dehumanization of Indigenous women is really critical,” Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan said during a meeting last week of the House committee on the status of women.

“The reason we suffer from poverty is from development in the absence of lifting up human rights.”

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls had heard from witnesses about transient workers in so-called “man camps” sexually assaulting local Indigenous women.

The inquiry had pointed to men with high incomes, few recreational activities and workplaces that seem to turn a blind eye to drug use and prostitution.

MPs are looking into two of the inquiry’s 231 calls to action, which called for “further inquiries and studies in order to better understand the relationship between resource extraction and” gender-based violence.

That included “a public inquiry into the sexual violence and racism at hydroelectric projects in northern Manitoba,” a reference to allegations dating to 2018, as well as the 1960s surrounding assaults and sexual abuse by Hydro workers involved in northern dam projects.

Diane Redsky, head of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, testified this sort of violence is commonplace at work sites across Western Canada.

“Man camps are breeding grounds for predators to have full access to victimize Indigenous women and girls, not to mention the unique vulnerabilities of our relatives who are two-spirit,” she told the committee.

Redsky said this is caused by “harmful stereotypes that Indigenous women will do anything for money,” combined with a sense of impunity and entitlement.

“Any time there are men with money who are transient, you’re going to have sexual exploitation of women and girls.”

Pamela Palmater, chairwoman of Indigenous governance at the Toronto Metropolitan University, called for an inquiry into the link between resource projects and violence against Indigenous women, including in provincial realms such as hydroelectricity.

“It is not a defence in international law to say, ‘Well, the provinces are responsible for this,’” she said. “All of these human rights obligations vest in the state, regardless of our constitutional makeup.”

Palmater argued perpetrators know they won’t get prosecuted, and said companies won’t stop violence unless Ottawa makes it so these incidents put their projects at risk of cancellation.

“It’s one of those things that happens right in plain sight. You’ve got human trafficking happening at truck stops near the man camps,” she said.

“Everybody knows about it. Police know about it; the managers know about it, and that doesn’t ever get addressed.”

Meanwhile, Redsky and other guests said the 2018 widespread service reduction by bus company Greyhound has left Indigenous women more reliant on hitchhiking, along routes where predators have kidnapped women. Groups floated the idea of resource companies helping to subsidize Indigenous-run shuttles in those areas.

Redsky said resource companies should work with governments and Indigenous leaders to come up with proactive solutions, such as criminal-record and child-abuse checks, and mandatory training.

She noted at least one company flies family members up to resource extraction sites, so the men working there aren’t as isolated.

The Edmonton-based Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation said some companies such as energy giant Enbridge have helped raise awareness about violence, by hiring Indigenous women to train workers on spotting and stopping exploitation.

“We can do all the great, preventive education in our communities and in our own ways. At the same time, we (must be) looking at the structural injustices,” said group head Kathleen Quinn.

The study has not been roundly welcomed.

A Conservative party member accidentally forwarded an internal caucus email to the NDP, revealing Calgary MP Stephanie Kusie found the entire testimony “disgraceful,” as “disadvantaged groups will never get ahead while the collective left limit their prosperity.”

Kusie, who doesn’t sit on the women’s committee, had suggested the Tories find First Nations-owned companies to talk about how resource projects help with economic development.

In the hearings so far, her Conservative peers have focused on whether economic development in communities means less family violence, a link activists and researchers said was unproven.

The Tories also pointed out while Canada-based mining companies abroad make up a large portion of alleged rape cases, it’s also the top country where global mining companies are headquartered.

The Conservatives also called for more public awareness and enforcement of existing laws.

The committee will have at least two more meetings on the topic, and is taking written submission until May 9.

The next meeting, on Tuesday, will feature Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, a Winnipeg-based expert on gender-based violence against Indigenous women and girls, who chairs the National Family and Survivors Circle.

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