MPs call for national emergency declaration on violence against Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit people

Leah Gazan, NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre, is surrounded by family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people at a news conference on May 2, 2023 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)
Leah Gazan, NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre, is surrounded by family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people at a news conference on May 2, 2023 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)

The House of Commons adopted a motion on unanimous consent Tuesday calling on the federal government to declare ongoing violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people a national emergency.

The motion was presented by Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan. It also calls on the government to provide an "immediate and substantial investment" to create a public alert system for missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

"I'm very pleased today that all members of Parliament are acknowledging the truth about the history in this country, as a way to move forward," she said.

Gazan is now calling on the government to issue an official emergency proclamation.

"It's one thing to acknowledge the truth. It's another thing to act on it," she said.

WATCH | 'There is a genocide happening'

CBC News asked the government if it will declare a national emergency but did not receive a clear answer.

In a statement, the Office of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said it will continue to work with partners to address the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

"It is clear that we need to do more," the statement said.

"The inherent complexities involved in changing fundamental structures and institutions takes time, and some will require sustained action over many generations."

Motion also calls for a new emergency alert system

Gazan's motion also urges the government to create a Red Dress Alert system. Like Amber Alerts for missing children, a Red Dress Alert would send emergency notifications to the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or two-spirit person goes missing.

Ottawa is establishing a roundtable of federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous representatives to discuss how to launch a Red Dress Alert, among other options.

The government set aside $2.5 million over the next five years in the last federal budget for the roundtable's work. Gazan said that's not good enough.

"This is a crisis," Gazan said.

"We don't have the privilege to discuss and debate ... Our loved ones are going missing and the government needs to act now."

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair dismissed the claim that the government is dragging its feet.

Blair met with Gazan last Thursday and said he's accepted her invitation to meet family members and advocates in Winnipeg to discuss how to establish a Red Dress Alert system. A date still has to be arranged.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Blair told CBC News emergency notifications primarily fall under provincial jurisdiction but the federal government still has a role to play.

"The actual mechanics of doing that is not as complicated as some might consider," Blair said.

"The real challenge is in developing an appropriate process that really engages, in a respectful way, Indigenous leadership and Indigenous voices in the decision-making around the use of that alert and how it would be triggered."

Family member hopes move compels police change

Blair said he couldn't estimate when a Red Dress Alert system might be in place but he recognizes the urgency.

"We are absolutely committed to taking the steps that are necessary to end the crisis," he said.

Gazan said she's not arranging the meeting with Blair "for the sake of meeting" and the government must present solutions.

"It's time for them to listen and respond with action," Gazan said.

During a Parliament Hill press conference earlier in the day, Gazan sent condolences to the family of an 8-year-old girl, whose remains were found on the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta., about 85 kilometres south of Edmonton, last Saturday.

Olivia Stefanovich/CBC
Olivia Stefanovich/CBC

Renee Gamblin Kastrukoff was one of almost two dozen family members and advocates who appeared with Gazan at the press conference to support her call for a national emergency.

Her mother, Irene Gamblin Kastrukoff, was killed eight days after her 36th birthday on Oct. 22, 1980.

Her 27-year-old niece, Kara Fosseneuve, was found dead last January.

In both cases, Gamblin Kastrukoff said, there hasn't been any justice.

She told CBC News she hopes a national emergency is called and a Red Dress alert system is implemented to increase awareness and compel change within police services.

"We feel like we're not being supported," said Gamblin Kastrukoff, the executive director of the Pas Family Resource Centre-Minisewin Waska in the Pas, Manitoba.

"We feel like there's not a trauma-informed approach being used."

In 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls concluded the violence perpetuated against Indigenous women in Canada amounted to genocide.