House unanimously backs motion calling MMIWG a national emergency

File photo. A Red Dress Day March and Rally was held in Edmonton on May 5, 2022 to raise awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls across Canada.

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter  

(ANNews) Parliament unanimously passed a resolution on May 2, 2023 declaring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) a national emergency, and calling for funding for an alert system that notifies the public when someone is reported missing. 

NDP MP Leah Gazan, who represents Winnipeg Centre in the House, brought forward the motion. Winnipeg is the Canadian city with the most Indigenous people, numbering 102,000, followed by Edmonton with 87,600. 

Last year, Winnipeg police announced they found the remains of two Indigenous women believed to be victims of an alleged serial killer in two of the city’s landfills. 

In April, the remains of Linda Mary Beardy, a 33-year-old woman from Lake St. Martin First Nation, were found at one of those landfills, but police and toxicologists insist it wasn’t a homicide. Her family have criticized the police’s decision not to investigate the possibility. 

Gazan told reporters after her motion passed that its unanimous support is a good first step, but concrete action is necessary. 

“The truth is the truth,” Gazan said. “It’s one thing to acknowledge truth, it’s another thing to act on it.”

The public alert system envisioned by Gazan would send notifications to phones, televisions and radios when an Indigenous woman is reported missing, which Gazan likened to an Amber Albert, which is made when a child goes missing, or weather alert.

“There’s no reason why that can’t happen tomorrow,” Gazan said. “It just takes political will.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated reconciliation with Indigenous People is a major priority of his government. Running in the 2015 election, he committed to implementing all 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

In 2019, he accepted the findings of the National Inquiry Into MMIWG final report, which determined that Canada is committing genocide against Indigenous Peoples, particularly targeting women. The government committed to “transformative change” and released a National Action Plan to begin implementing the report’s 231 Calls for Justice.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada, however, has criticized Trudeau for failing to deliver on his lofty rhetoric. 

The group called on the government to declare a national emergency for MMIWG in a May 1 open letter to MPs and Senators. Citing the fact that MMIWG cases have increased since the inquiry report was released, it also called for increased funding “to end this genocide.”

When Gazan raised the possibility of an alert system for missing Indigenous women in February, Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said alerts are a provincial responsibility. 

But Gazan said the federal government has a role to play in coordinating between provinces, territories, Indigenous governments and advocates. Some Indigenous communities already have alert systems of their own.

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