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Missing the Bus: Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people and public transit in Western Canada

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About the project

“Missing the Bus” explores the connections between uneven mobility and mobility justice in the context of Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people in Western Canada, with a particular focus on Manitoba. (In this study, we use the term Two-Spirit plus as a shorthand to describe people whose gender identity and presentation fall outside of a heterosexual gender-binary model and may include people who identify as queer, non-binary, lesbian, gay, bi- or pansexual, transgender, transsexual, gender non-confirming, or Two-Spirit.) We draw on the project leads’ backgrounds in history, women’s and gender studies, environmental studies and policy to situate our study within a shifting and diminishing landscape of intercity public transit in Manitoba and Canada, and patterns of violence committed against Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people. “Missing the Bus” examines the available scholarly literature, grey literature and popular media sources that contribute to an understanding of what role public transit or its absence plays in the conditions that further marginalize or that may serve to target Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people.

Key findings

Our study has four key findings:

  1. That the available intercity public transit available to people in Manitoba in particular has declined sharply in the last decade, with significant negative effects on Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people who often rely on it for transportation to medical appointments, to pursue educational and professional opportunities, to attend court-mandated appointments and to participate in cultural ceremonies. While this decline is highlighted by the withdrawal of Greyhound Bus Lines from its western Canadian routes in 2018, the situation extends beyond this particular loss. Manitoba’s experience shares important connections with the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan as well as other provinces, but is also distinct and worthy of specific consideration.
  2. That the absence of accessible intercity or intracity public transit alongside concerns about the quality and safety of public transit is connected to the well-documented crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit plus people in Canada. Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit plus people are not inherently vulnerable, but live in a world where systemic discrimination, including the effects of colonialism, racism and sexism, can make them so. The availability and safety of public transit, or the lack thereof, is something that threatens the safety of Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people.
  3. That there are pockets of information and analysis in the existing scholarly and grey literature and popular media sources that help us understand the connections between safety or its absence, public transit, and Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people. These include an interdisciplinary and global Indigenous Studies scholarship connecting space, gender and colonization; a robust history of reports and inquiries that speak to the connections between public transit and safety or its absence, most notably the reports produced by the Province of British Columbia and the 2019 final report on the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women; and digital and print media, especially produced by Indigenous journalists, calling attention to the effects of a changing transit landscape on Indigenous people and communities.
  4. We still know too little about how Indigenous people, women and gender-diverse people, and particularly Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people, use public transit. There is little research on public transit in Western Canada, let alone Manitoba, that centres on these users and their distinct needs in either their data or their analysis.

Policy implications

Addressing safety and access: Policy decisions concerning transit are often made without deep engagement with its users. Policy-makers must address the barriers to transit use, including those rooted in the substantial and justifiable anxieties that many Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people have about intercity and intracity public transit in much of Western Canada. This includes mitigating barriers to transit use, including cost, schedule and the lack of clear information about what public transit is available. We urge policy-makers to consider options for addressing these patterns that avoid the practices of securitization that are documented to disproportionately and often negatively affect racialized and Indigenous users.

An interjurisdictional and publicly funded network: Private operators are not able to fill the space left by the shuttering of Greyhound’s western routes in 2018, and the closure of most of its remaining Canadian routes in 2021. It is also clear that not all governments are committed to taking steps to address the issue. We call for the creation of a national, publicly funded system across Canadian provinces. This network should be developed in collaboration with Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people or their affiliated organizations and communities, and be centred on their needs.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Adele Perry, professor, History and Women’s and Gender Studies, and director, Centre for Human Rights Research, University of Manitoba: adele.perry@umanitoba.ca

Karine Duhamel, director of research, National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Jocelyn Thorpe, associate professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, and History and director, Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture, University of Manitoba

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, Infrastructure Canada or the Government of Canada.

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