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The ONW Salon: Trouble For The Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women And Girls (MMIWG)

The Inquiry Into MMIWG is off to a slow and controversial start, with some family members vowing to blockade hearings - most of which are being put off until the fall.  What is holding up the inquiry and what needs to be done to make it a success?


Tom Parkin:

A flood of frustration from indigenous families overflowed last week. And clearly the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) are barely able to hold it back. A recent AFN press release said there are “serious concerns about the on-going delays and lack of transparency” with the inquiry. Francyne Joe, NWAC Interim President condemned it as “disillusioning to the families” and run with “secrecy.”

This latest storm followed from an open letter dated Monday from about 40 families of missing or murdered Indigenous women. The letter called the inquiry “disorganized” and said it suffered from “haphazard and insufficient communications.”

On May 16 the NWAC released its report card, which gave a failing grade on 10 of the 14 points they could assess. In response, inquiry chair Marion Buller held a press conference last Friday in which she seemed to be making it up as she went along. Replying to a question about appropriate communications with families, Buller mused that perhaps that is something that should be brought to her advisory panel. It was not a confidence-inspiring performance.

Ms. Joe believes the process has come too far to give up yet. The first open session of the inquiry is Monday in Whitehorse. If it goes well it will rebuild trust. But if it turns into a bureaucratic and insensitive nightmare – watch out!

Reconciliation requires trust and effort. What will make it even tougher is a politician who likes to be photographed with indigenous people then plays the age-old game of breaking promises to them.


John Capobianco:

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) was created by the Liberal government shortly after its election in 2015 and after having promised it in their election campaign (as did the NDP). I give them full credit for keeping this promise and, despite the fact that former PM Harper did not feel an inquiry was necessary – as he believed this was best handled by law enforcement agencies - interim CPC Leader Rona Ambrose came out in support of the inquiry.

The mandate of the inquiry is to probe what its calls systematic causes of violence against indigenous women and girls who have died in large number in a relatively short period of time. According to the National Inquiry’s website, the three main goals are: 1. Finding the truth; 2. Honouring the truth; and 3. Giving life to the truth as a path to healing.

Very few Canadians would object to the creation of the inquiry in an effort to get to the bottom of this tragic situation and hope to find a solution or, at the very least, get to the truth, as is one of the inquiry's goals.

However, it has been a year and some months since this was created, funded, and given its mandate, and as Tom states above, very few deliverables have resulted to date. That makes the situation more tenuous, and if it fails to continue to get going, it runs the high risk of losing credibility.

That would be a travesty, given the intent of the inquiry and with so many people believing that this is a way forward to find solutions. Not having faith that it will be effective will hurt so many people, including most specifically the families of the women and girls who have died.


Richard Mahoney:

John is right to point out that the idea of having an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women was long resisted by former Prime Minister Harper and his government. To be fair, he was not alone - most law enforcement agencies, many lawyers, judges and other experts, including many of indigenous background - pointed out that inquiries cannot solve actions that have been the result of crimes. But the powerful, pervasive and disturbing evidence that there was a systemic nature to this terrible reality convinced many that an inquiry was needed. Significantly Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party were among those who called for an inquiry.

This inquiry will be difficult, troubling and controversial. It will have a very difficult time helping victims deal with their profound loss. It many ways, the inquiry itself, no matter how well it does its job, cannot help families very much.

Their loss has already been suffered. Their family member or loved one is gone. Many of those affected are deeply wounded and scarred by what they have already experienced. That there might be something evil lurking in our society, preying on vulnerable indigenous women systemically, turns the stomach and horrifies. On top of that, the very nature of the subject matter that the inquiry now must deal with, and publicly, is profoundly disturbing

The government of Canada’s own website that announces the creation of this independent inquiry warns against the trauma that may result in some people simply reading the subject matter.

Organizations like the CBC have documented many cases, in tragic detail.

Starting any inquiry from scratch is long and difficult work. This one, all the more so, given the above.

While there have obviously been some challenges in getting going, and some difficulty in setting up communications, it is also obvious that the government proceeded cautiously and professionally in consulting with the communities before setting up the independent inquiry, and that the inquiry itself has also proceeded deliberately.

I expect there will be more difficult days ahead, for the inquiry and for all of us. But that difficulty pales in comparison to the horrors that families and communities have suffered for a long time.


Tom Parkin:

Whatever problems there are with the Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, there can be no doubt that the frustration now flooding back has been built on a tide of disappointment in the Trudeau government’s broken promises to indigenous people. Things don’t work in isolation.

The Liberals broke promises on adding $50 million a year to the Post Secondary Student Program. Funding to improve First Nations schooling hasn’t be delivered as promised. And, most well know due to the work of Cindy Blackstock and Charlie Angus, the Liberals continue to refuse to implement the decision by the Canada Human Rights Tribunal despite now three compliance orders being issued. Despite election promises, they refuse to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The CHRT order requires that the Liberals eliminate the racial discrimination in children’s welfare services. People on First Nations still have to get a bureaucrat’s approval for treatments that, for anyone else, would simply be paid for on a physician’s referral and assessment.

Reconciliation requires trust and effort. What will make it even tougher is a politician who likes to be photographed with indigenous people then plays the age-old game of breaking promises to them.


John Capobianco:

The good news in all of this is that there is an inquiry which was set up to be independent in order for it to have the powers to investigate, probe and report, without having specific political pressure being brought upon it.  But the reality is that such a sensitive issue has so many people watching that they will always have pressure brought upon it, as we are seeing now given the lack of progress. The bad news is that the weight of responsibility on this inquiry to produce something meaningful and real is so great that many expectations of what this inquiry is supposed to do will not be met. Herein is the challenge to PM Trudeau, notwithstanding his campaign promise being kept - he will wear this if the inquiry's findings are not up to the community's expectations.

Tom lists a stack of Liberal broken promises, which range from student loans to lack of action on welfare services, all of them having an affect on a stakeholder group or a segment of the Canadian population. However, those are in the PM's control. But the inquiry into MMIWG is not as easily controlled by the PM, which may cause him more damage.

The inquiry has the funds, the people in place, the goals and the will to achieve what it needs to achieve, including good will amongst all the political parties and most of the community. So it needs to get on with it and get results coming in, because what the inquiry doesn't have a lot of is the patience from those who have been directly or indirectly hurt by the violence and senseless deaths of these women and girls.


Richard Mahoney:

Tom surprisingly forgets to mention the significant investments the Trudeau government has made in education, housing and natural resource policy and other matters affecting Canada’s indigenous peoples. In its first budget, the Trudeau government restored much of the progress and funding for education taken away when implementation of the Kelowna Accord was cancelled by the Harper government.

He also neglects to take responsibility for the role the NDP has played in Canada’s admittedly sad history of broken promises in this area. But we don’t need to detail that here - I would, as a public service, be happy to do so, some other time!

He is right to say our history fuels scepticism that something this difficult and painful could ever achieve reconciliation. I am not sure that reconciliation is the right expectation, frankly. But truth, and information, and the ability for all of us to do the opposite of what has been done, is possible. To hear the stories of these victims. To better understand the suffering of the families. To account, in some fashion, for what society has allowed to happen. To point out the failings of the “system", including law enforcement, (but certainly not limited to that) and what can be done to change that.

If, through all the difficulties, and painful recollections, the inquiry allows for that, then I think that it will have done something right. But it will be a long, difficult and troublesome road to get there.  


Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 




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