Before the summer's end, I visited two friends, two Indigenous women who are also lawyers like me. We met up near Davenport Road in Toronto. We chatted over dessert and drinks. Eventually we decided to leave, and I ordered a car sharing service. It arrived with another man inside but I had not ordered a carpool. I immediately cancelled the car despite the driver telling us to get inside and saying there was nothing to worry about. However, as an Indigenous woman, I am cautious of my safety, and the safety of my community. If something happened to us, there would be no way to trace the other individual.
The safety of my community should be a priority for everyone — especially leaders at Toronto City Hall. Toronto is home to one of Canada's largest urban Indigenous populations and yet there has been an erasure of Indigenous issues in the upcoming municipal election. We should not allow this to happen.
I am not new to the issues that Indigenous women face in large urban centres — such examples include increased violence and a lack of safe housing.
Back in 2010, the City of Toronto adopted the Statement of Commitment to the Aboriginal Communities of Toronto. This statement was updated in 2015. During that same time, the City Council, in consultation with the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, identified priorities for implementation regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Actions. A large portion of the City's Statement of Commitment 'mirrored' these Calls to Actions. One such Call to Action included Call to Action 43:
We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
The work of this Committee on Indigenous issues is important but we have heard very little about it in the municipal election. Thus far, the Toronto Election has been marred with court challenges and with one city councillor calling his own constituents "cockroaches." In these stories that dominate the media, I worry that the commitments to Indigenous constituents are taking a back seat.
As an Indigenous woman living in Toronto, I am not new to the issues that Indigenous women face in large urban centres — such examples include increased violence and a lack of safe housing. When I see discussions about violence that some communities are experiencing, there is almost no mention of Indigenous women and girls. When I see the discussions about affordable housing in Toronto, equally, there is little to no mention in mainstream media about the lack of affordable housing for Indigenous women and girls.
Watch: Safe-ride driver says women share difficult experiences with her
Now, if we place these statements within the context of the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people, the erasure of these issues from discussions on items like violence in the community and/or (un)affordable housing is telling. This erasure tells me one of three things:
- Indigenous women are not a priority;
- Violence against Indigenous women, despite the National Inquiry, is not a priority; and,
- Safety for Indigenous women is not a priority.
This kind of erasure from the municipal election scares me, and Indigenous women live the effects of it every single day.
As an Indigenous woman, I cannot even use a car sharing service without fear for my safety. I think back to that same night — after turning away the first driver I ordered a second car; before the second car even arrived another car approached and the driver said, "Get in, I am your car." I can only imagine what might have happened if my friends and I had gotten in. What if we had gone missing? Would we have been a priority?
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The safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls is as important as any other community, and our voices must be heard this election — and every day thereafter. There are pressing issues facing our communities that we need to address now. So, my message to political candidates is: you must do better before asking for our votes.
Naomi Sayers is an indigenous feminist, lawyer and a member of YWCA Toronto's Board of Directors. Find her on Twitter at @kwetoday. The views expressed are her own and do not represent her employer's views.
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