In 2010 and 2014, a grassroots coalition consulted with Indigenous Women and over 40 community organizations and asked councilor and mayoral candidates to agree to them. Our current Mayor Brian Bowman along with 10 Councillors agreed to these 6 recommendations during the campaign. This year in June, the Mayor will be signing this document (Winnipeg Indigenous Accord) and we hope that there is something tangible that comes of it, perhaps include some or all of these detailed recommendations that are within municipal jurisdiction. AYO Politix salutes the SVAAWAG initiative and hopes the City will be able to respond in actions.
Stop Violence Against Aboriginal Women Action Group is a grassroots volunteer collective made up of Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal Winnipeggers working to create awareness and strategies that address violence against Aboriginal women and girls.
SVAAWAG has created ‘human billboards’ to engage community on the issue, and has hosted a community survey and forum. We have also spoken as witnesses to the 2011 parliamentary committee on violence against women, participated in memorials and vigils, maintained a Facebook page with the latest local and national news, and contributed to a book compilation of national community initiatives on the issue. SVAAWAG members come to the collective through a commitment to action, and with experience in community, program and economic development, research, socially engaged art practices, front line and anti-racism work, counselling, activism, and lobbying.
Why do we focus on violence specifically against Aboriginal women and girls? Because of the shockingly higher rates of violence and distinctive political, policing, societal, and economic conditions in Canada that make Aboriginal women more vulnerable than non – Aboriginal women. These conditions have been brought to the attention of governments and police in Canada, yet have been ignored, or insufficiently addressed.
1) Create and implement a City of Winnipeg action plan
Historically, governments and policing organizations in Canada have had knowledge of higher rates of violence against Aboriginal women, yet have failed to apply leadership, political will and resources to address it. The City of Winnipeg, with its large urban Aboriginal population, should lead Canadian municipalities by creating and implementing strategies to address the safety and justice crisis of Aboriginal women and girls. We commend the City Council’s show of support in recent days by passing a motion that calls for action by the federal government and on the Winnipeg Police Board and Winnipeg Police Service to provide a proactive approach in the prevention and investigation of missing and murdered indigenous women in Winnipeg. This acknowledgement of the seriousness of the issue must be followed by a specific dedication of city resources, including money, staff, infrastructure, and timelines in order to be effective. We recommend that the Mayor and Council approve staffing and other needed resources to create and implement, in collaboration with Aboriginal community members, including women and youth, respected experts, and service providers, a comprehensive, culturally relevant action plan with goals and dates. And that the plan addresses prevention and investigation of cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Winnipeg. We further recommend that the plan:
– Apply to City of Winnipeg policies, services and programs within its civic mandate, as well as;
– Has a component by which the City of Winnipeg’s Action Plan representatives can advocate and collaborate with the larger community as appropriate including businesses, organizations, and appropriate provincial and federal departments
2) Expand the mandate of the City of Winnipeg Aboriginal Youth Strategy and; Provide adequate, sustained, core funding to the Aboriginal Youth Strategy’s partnership with community organizations
The City of Winnipeg Aboriginal Youth Strategy prioritizes participation and success of Aboriginal youth through training, jobs, literacy, recreation and cultural opportunities. It does this by funding and partnering with Aboriginal community organizations, and applying resources within City departments such as Community Services Recreation, Libraries, By-Law Enforcement, Public Works, Winnipeg Fire and Paramedics and others. The Strategy describes its mandate as “providing culturally appropriate programs and supports related to employment, literacy, and recreation for the purpose of increasing resiliency, self-sustainability, pride and future opportunities.” We recommend that:
– City Council re- affirm its commitment to the Aboriginal Youth Strategy, and;
– That the Strategy’s mandate be expanded to include the support of Aboriginal youth in becoming safe and stable. This will reduce the risk to Winnipeg’s most vulnerable youth, namely runaways, homeless, those with addictions, crime-involved, and the sexually exploited. It will also serve to provide a foundation to those most at risk so they may access the opportunities under the current mandate of the Strategy.
We further recommend that the Strategy do this through its two current streams;
a) by making city resources and infrastructure available, as well as
b) partnering with community organizations and providing funding.
With this additional mandate, we recommend that the Strategy target its resources to activities, programs, and services as recommended in a consultation with over 40 Winnipeg community service providers, and suggested actions by family members of the missing and murdered. These community members state the need for increases in culturally relevant resources, including:
a. Drop-in and recreation programs run during the day, evenings, nights and weekends, especially in the Downtown, West End, Chalmers, and North End neighbourhoods of Winnipeg
b. Shelters and transitional services for women, men, and trans-gendered people in situations that include:
– Moving from a rural community or First Nation to Winnipeg,
– Domestic violence victims,
– Sex-trade involved,
– Youth ‘ageing out’ of Child and Family Services foster care,
– Justice system-involved
c. Programs that focus on building capacity, self-esteem, and advocacy for women and girls
d. Domestic violence prevention programs for men and youth
e. Programs that increase employment capacity of people living on low incomes to reduce poverty
3) Revise the mandate of BIZ Associations to include assistance for street-involved people
We recommend revising the Business Improvement Zones Procedures By-Law to include mechanisms that allow for the use of BIZ funding to establish teams that address the safety of street-involved people and runaways using a preventative outreach model such as the Community Homelessness Assistance Team (CHAT) of the Downtown Winnipeg Biz. This team uses a social services approach to facilitate the transition from homelessness to enhanced stability.
It is further recommended that the City promote and provide additional funding to encourage the adoption of such teams in these key neighbourhood BIZ associations: Downtown Winnipeg, Exchange District, North End, Selkirk Avenue, West End, West Broadway, and Osborne Village.
4) Provide the Winnipeg Police Board and Winnipeg Police Service with clear direction and support to target funds within the police budget and set this issue as a priority
“ Winnipeg should take a lead role on the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, says police chief Devon Clunis, who added that he’s just waiting to be given the mandate to do it.” (Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 5, 2014).
We recommend that the Winnipeg City Council provide the Winnipeg Police Board and Winnipeg Police Service with clear direction to target funds within the police budget on revising and applying prevention and policing practices that will improve policing and investigation of violent crime against Aboriginal women and girls.
We further recommend that the City direct the Winnipeg Police Board and Winnipeg Police Service to develop and implement an action plan in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, Aboriginal people, front line service providers, and the families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls that will:
– Decrease the incidence of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Winnipeg,
– Address the needs of the victims’ families, and
– Apply needed resources to resolve the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
5) Mandate comprehensive training to Winnipeg Police Service members and staff
As part of the responsibility of establishing protocols for all city departments, and as the employer of Winnipeg police members and civilian staff, we recommend that the City of Winnipeg institute mandatory anti-racism training and cultural competency training on the specific risks to Aboriginal women and girls. Such training would ensure an understanding of violence against women in a range of settings including family violence, child sexual exploitation, and violence against women in the sex trade.
We recommend that the City actively consult with Aboriginal women, members of the Aboriginal community, resource persons, and recognized experts in the creation or selection of appropriate, comprehensive training.
It is further recommended that training be taken on a regular and ongoing basis by all police members – cadets, recruits, and long-term members, as well as civilian staff.
6) Direct the Winnipeg Police Board and Winnipeg Police Service to increase the number of Aboriginal people working for the Winnipeg Police Service
We commend the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) for increasing its complement of Aboriginal officers in the past as directed by the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission. We are further encouraged by the percentage (19.5% in 2013) of Aboriginal people in the WPS’ cadet force.
As the employer of WPS officers and civilians, we recommend that the City of Winnipeg direct the Winnipeg Police Service to increase its proportion of Aboriginal police officers from 10.5% in 2013 to 12% by 2017 to keep pace with the percentage of Aboriginal people within Winnipeg’s population.
We recommend that measures used to set targets for the employment of Aboriginal civilian staff in the Winnipeg Police Service be reviewed and adjusted so that Aboriginal civilian staff increases from 7% in 2013 to 12% by 2017.
Both the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission emphasize the importance of having Aboriginal people employed in the police system. The AJIC stated that “increased numbers of Aboriginal people employed in a system that deals with large numbers of Aboriginal people will improve the system’s credibility and legitimacy among Aboriginal people. This will render the system more efficient and more effective.” We have heard that Aboriginal women and families would be more likely to seek and expect help from the police if they felt comfortable within the system.