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Indigenous women express concerns about MMIWG inquiry

The Trudeau government today announced the long-awaited inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

The inquiry will: be led by Marion Buller, British Columbia’s first female Indigenous judge, and four other commissioners; begin on September 1 and run until December 31, 2018; and cost $53.8 million.

CBC has reported, “It will examine the factors driving a systemic, high rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and the role of various institutions, including police forces, governments and coroners’ offices. It will also review various federal and provincial laws, but will not find criminal liability.”

While there have been many expressions of support and hope for this inquiry, there are also numerous concerns being expressed. Those include: the degree to which the inquiry will examine how seriously police investigations were conducted into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (the inquiry will not have the authority to make findings of police misconduct); that the inquiry won’t be able to compel the police to re-open closed cases; the commissioners who were chosen; how deeply the inquiry will look at colonialism and systemic issues; and whether the recommendations will be implemented.

  • Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, says she’s concerned that family members won’t be able to reopen cases through the justice system. She says, “Families made it very clear that they wanted answers, that many cases they felt were closed prematurely, that they don’t accept the conclusion. They wanted those reopened. …We cannot ignore the fact that many family members and survivors of violence do not feel like they were treated respectively or fairly by the justice system.” Lavell-Harvard has also noted that she will need time to determine if the funding announced for family information liaison units will adequately service families. Sources: CBC and NWAC media release

  • Josie Nepinak, director of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge emergency shelter in Calgary, is concerned that there is no specific mention of police investigations. She says, “I’ve heard time and time again from families not satisfied with the response from the police and [that] it’s taken too long for them to respond. They’re not taking seriously, the family’s concerns and basically there’s this dismissive attitude.” Source: CBC

  • Susan Barberstock, executive director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, says, “There needs to be teeth to the recommendations to see that they’re acted upon.” The lack of criminal liability concerns Barberstock and she fears a limp pile of recommendations. She asks, “How many of these things are sitting on the shelf collecting dust?” Source: CBC

  • Pam Palmater, a Ryerson University professor, notes, “Terms of Reference FINALLY posted on PCO [Privy Council Office] website and have not changed much from previous leaked drafts – except that provinces and territories are NOT included in the document.” NWAC notes, “Some of the systemic issues will require provincial discussions, namely police services and the child welfare system. We cannot ignore what we know. Girls have described that they were sex trafficked from group homes and motels that are part of the child welfare system. We have a disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are in the criminal justice system.” Source: Facebook post and NWAC media release

  • Carol Muree Martin, a member of the Women’s Memorial March Committee and a victim services worker in the Downtown East Side, says, “I have some concerns, a lot of concerns, because if you’re talking about a national inquiry I don’t think it should be put in jurisdiction in place when it comes to federal or provincial. And when you say that you’re not going to open up a lot of files I think you’re covering up, keeping a lot of stuff hidden from the public and from the families about how they treated the families, how they didn’t do what they were supposed to do. I think that, I’m feeling really emotional right now because they are hardened people who are so familiar with this system, the judicial system. I don’t think the judicial system works for our people at all. You’re talking to people who are binded by this Canadian’s system of law.” Source: Facebook video

  • Bridget Tolley, founder of the Sisters in Spirit vigils, retweeted Russell Diabo’s tweet that noted, “The choice of MMIWG Commissioners does not include Women/Activists from the families who’s relatives were murdered, heavy w/ judge/lawyers!” Source: Twitter

  • Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, says, “Once again a non-Inuk will be speaking for us.” While commissioner Qajaq Robinson was raised in Igloolik, Nunavut, and speaks Inuktitut, she is not an Inuk. Pauktuutit has sent a letter to the federal government asking them to add a sixth Inuk commissioner to this inquiry. Source: CBC

  • Sheila North Wilson, Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, says she hopes the inquiry will include the Indian Act in its review of systemic causes. She says, “All of it plays a part in the inequities, and not providing all the opportunities and safety that our women and girls deserve – the ones that everyone else has in this country.” Source: The Globe and Mail

Additional concerns expressed by Indigenous women, 35 groups and individuals, as well as Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, can be read in this CBC news report that was posted just moments ago.

The Council of Canadians will follow the inquiry and continue to share the concerns of Indigenous women about the inquiry process and its outcomes.

For our blogs on this issue, please click here.