Canada vows 'transformative change' to address violence against indigenous women

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Ottawa has unveiled an action plan to stem violence against indigenous women and girls, one week after 215 children's remains were discovered buried at a former indigenous residential school in Kamloops

Ottawa unveiled a blueprint Thursday to address violence, racism and disproportionately higher deaths of indigenous women in Canada, vowing "transformative change" two years after a public inquiry labeled their killings a genocide.

The Can$2.2 billion (US$1.8 billion) action plan is a response to the 2019 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that found they were 12 times more likely to experience violence and seven times more likely to be killed than other women in Canada.

It comes also one week after the grim discovery of unmarked graves of 215 children at an indigenous residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

The measures -- including increased spending on indigenous culture and health, giving communities more control over social services and the creation of a task force to investigate unsolved murders -- will drive "transformative change necessary to end this national tragedy," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference.

Critics, however, said the plan falls short.

The inquiry report identified at least 1,200 indigenous women who were killed or went missing between 1980 and 2012, but estimated the toll was likely much higher.

The perpetrators of the violence included indigenous and non-indigenous family members and partners, casual acquaintances and serial killers.

But the commissioners went further in linking the deaths to endemic poverty, racism, sexism and other social ills traced back to failed attempts by early colonizers and beyond to force indigenous people to integrate.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School, where the unmarked graves were discovered using ground-penetrating radar, was the largest of 139 schools established across Canada in the late 19th century to forcibly assimilate the country's indigenous peoples.

"We cannot ignore the devastating link between the large numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, and the legacy of residential schools," Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett commented.

"Many of the root causes of violence we see today can be traced back to the loss of culture, identity, family connections and the child abuse perpetrated by the residential school system," she said.

The inquiry report called for sweeping changes, detailed in 231 recommendations for improving the security, justice, health and culture of Canada's indigenous people.

Trudeau at the time accepted its findings, including that the disappearances and deaths of indigenous women -- victims of endemic violence in Canada -- amounted to genocide.

Critics of the government plan, which was designed in partnership with several indigenous groups, say it's too broad, lacks detail and offers no clear timelines.

One group, the Native Women's Association, went so far as to release its own plan, telling Canadian media the government's proposal was "fundamentally flawed."