A House of Commons committee is studying links between resource extraction and violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
The Standing Committee on the Status of Women, made up of Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic MPs, announced the study in April in response to calls to justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Karen Vecchio, a Conservative MP and shadow minister for women and gender equality, is chair of the federal committee.
“We’re being able to discuss this very wholesomely, from across the country, and what this issue really looks like – especially in the areas of natural resource development,” she told Cabin Radio.
“I’m really proud of the work that we’re doing, especially in this 44th parliament.”
The committee has heard from advocates and people with lived experience. Vecchio said a final report will include recommendations for how the federal government can help eliminate violence against women and girls in the context of resource extraction projects.
Vecchio said issues the committee has heard include a lack of resources in isolated communities and how a large influx of workers can impact those communities.
Diane Redsky – executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, a family resource centre in Winnipeg – was among those who provided evidence to the committee.
She said transient male workforces are related to the sexual exploitation of women and girls, describing “man camps” as “breeding grounds for predators to have full access to victimize Indigenous women and girls.”
“There is a very scary sense of entitlement that the men from these man camps have, which is further perpetuated by society’s harmful stereotypes that Indigenous women will do anything for money and that you can do anything to an Indigenous woman and no one will do anything about it,” she said. “Men get away with victimizing Indigenous women all the time.”
She called for the extractive resource industry to better understand and plan for community impacts.
Dr Debbra Grieg, a social worker and mental health services provider who spoke to the committee on behalf of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, said “resource development has fed into the continuing process of colonization.”
“Gender-based violence has been an outcome of resource development all over the North and, I’m sure, all over Canada,” she said. “Industry needs to be educated about the extent of the oppression of the people.”
Grieg said support is needed for women who work in and near resource extraction sites, like on-site security and ways for women to report issues like derogatory comments without fear of losing their jobs.
‘Simply trying to employ more women’
Leslie Varley, executive director of the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, called for long-term funding for wraparound, culturally appropriate support services for Indigenous women. She said lack of access to affordable housing is particularly an issue for women fleeing violence.
The Mining Association of Canada, the national organization representing the Canadian mining industry, acknowledged to the committee that the sector has a responsibility to address social impacts from resource extraction and ensure mine sites are safe spaces for Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
Jamie Kneen, from MiningWatch Canada, told Cabin Radio the links between resource extraction and gender-based violence and discrimination have been underreported and understudied.
“For a long time, the focus of the industry was simply trying to employ more women and not even really trying to understand why that might be problematic,” Kneen said.
“We’ve gone through a long period of people, and women in particular, trying to raise these issues. And it hasn’t been taken seriously.”
Kneen said there’s a need for greater community consent and decision-making when it comes to resource extraction projects, pointing to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
The final report from the national inquiry documented evidence that suggests resource extraction projects exacerbate violence against Indigenous women and girls. It highlighted issues related to transient workers, harassment and assault in the workplace, rotational shift work, substance use and addictions, and economic insecurity.
A 2021 study commissioned by the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society documented Indigenous and racialized women’s experiences working in mines in the Yukon and northern BC. They detailed high rates of harassment, discrimination and violence.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada has also researched the impacts of resource extraction on Inuit women and their families in Nunavut communities.
President Gerri Sharpe said while resource extraction projects can offer jobs and economic benefits, challenges at worksites like inappropriate comments, sexual harassment and violence disproportionatey impact Inuit women. She said there’s a need for robust policies to address gender and Inuit-specific impacts, as well as ensuring resource extraction companies follow commitments in impact benefit agreements.
“The extractive industry needs to be sure that it lives up to the impact agreements, so that the partnership that is currently existing prospers and grows because Inuit women want to work and make their own money,” Sharpe said. “But if the opportunities aren’t there or they feel unsafe, that makes it more difficult.”
The NWT government’s response to the calls for justice from the national inquiry noted that when assessing resource extraction proposals, the territory has a responsibility to consider concerns about safety, security and equity benefits for Indigenous women and girls.
If any issues are identified, the territory said, the NWT government is required to provide that evidence to resource management boards.