The MMIWG report calls for sweeping justice reform
Kim Stanton on holding institutions accountable for failing to implement the MMIWG report’s recommendations
Kim Stanton talked to the Toronto Star about the recommendations made by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and how to hold institutions accountable for making necessary changes.
Many of the MMIWG recommendations focus on changes to the criminal justice system, but Kim explained why other recommendations are equally important:
Criminal justice reforms alone, especially those addressing the trauma and aftermath of violence including punitive sentencing measures, do not address the root causes of the violence and racism experienced by Indigenous women and girls across the country for generations, said Kim Stanton, a lawyer who practises Aboriginal law at Goldblatt Partners in Toronto. The report also calls for public transit to remote communities, a guaranteed annual livable income for all Canadians, child welfare reform and safe housing and clean water for all Indigenous communities. The recommendations must be viewed as a whole if they are to make a meaningful impact, she said.
“Even at the most basic level we need to be paying attention to the lack of services that make it possible for Indigenous women not to be victimized in the first place,” she said.
One key recommendation, Stanton said, is the report’s call for a national ombudsperson and tribunal that would evaluate government services to ensure compliance with human and Indigenous rights laws. Stanton said this office could shine a light on the progress or lack thereof governments and institutions are making.
“Without accountability measures, these things tend to fade,” she said. “Ensuring accountability will be critical to achieving any change.”
One of the recommendation is that funding be made available to provide free legal support for Indigenous women and girls. However, in Ontario, the Ford government just slashed legal aid funding:
“With a 30 per cent cut I am not hopeful that this particular recommendation will be implemented here,” said Kim Stanton.
“There has been such a long-standing crisis in legal aid funding and this recent set of cuts has just exacerbated it,” she said. “I would hope that there would be a reconsideration of those cuts in light of this recommendation.”
Another recommendation is to make murder cases with a pattern of intimate-partner violence and abuse count as first-degree murder. in Kim’s view, any such changes to the Criminal Code should be carefully considered:
…any changes that could result in harsher sentencing will need to be carefully reviewed in the context of over-incarceration and over-policing of Indigenous and racialized people in general, said Stanton. Indigenous women are disproportionately targeted by non-Indigenous men, but they also experience abuse in their own communities, she said.
“Punitive measures should be less of a focus than addressing the root causes of the violence,” Stanton said. Deterrence through punitive measures is not proven to be effective and much of the violence and abuse experienced by Indigenous women and girls stems from systemic factors, she said.