OTTAWA — The House of Commons unanimously backed a motionTuesday declaring the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls a Canada-wide emergency — and calling for funding for a new system to alert the public when someone goes missing.
Leah Gazan, who represents a Winnipeg riding, presented the motion to her colleagues in the afternoon. She previously led an effort for the House to recognize the residential school system as a genocide, which it did last fall.
"The truth is the truth," she told reporters after Tuesday's vote. "It's one thing to acknowledge truth, it's another thing to act on it."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people is one of his top priorities since forming government in 2015.
In 2019, he accepted the findings of a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, which said the crisis amounted to a genocide.
Trudeau has since been criticized by groups such as the Native Women's Association of Canada for failing to deliver on his commitments to fulfil the many recommendations directed at the federal government.
Statistics show Indigenous women continue to disappear and to be the victims of violence at a higher rate than non-Indigenous women. Late last year, Winnipeg police announced that the remains of several First Nations women — all believed to have been murdered by the same man — were found in a landfill outside the city. That catapulted the issue back into the spotlight.
Gazan and other advocates have continued pushing for a public alert system that would send a notification to phones, televisions and radios when an Indigenous woman disappears.
She said she imagines it operating like an Amber Alert, which is an emergency notification that goes out when a child is missing and believed to be in danger.
"There's no reason why that can't happen tomorrow," Gazan said, adding the country also has systems for weather alerts. "It just takes political will."
Back in February, one of the last times Gazan raised the issue, a spokesperson for Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair's office said provincial governments operate emergency alert systems and it would be up to them to choose whether to adopt any new systems.
However, Gazan said that she believes Ottawa has a role to play and that she has been working to organize preliminary meetings between the government and advocates to discuss what an alert system could look like.
She said the alert would no doubt need to work across jurisdictions and told reporters that some Indigenous communities operate alerts of their own.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press