The Canadian Press, August 3, 2016
GATINEAU, Que. — The families of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls are being promised they will now have someone to turn to when they need help navigating the justice system.
“Some of the families of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls told us they wanted to know more about what happened to their loved ones, but found it hard to get the information,” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday as the Liberal government unveiled the details of their promised national inquiry.
The federal justice department is devoting $11.7 million over three years so that provinces and territories can establish family information liaison units within their existing victims services departments.
Another $4.5 million to support victims services projects giving direct help to the families of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls.
“These units will help families deal with the trauma of their loss and help them connect to the resources that they require,” Wilson-Raybould said.
That would include helping families get more details of the investigation — or, when that’s not possible, explain to them why that is the case.
Bernadette Smith said families need all the help they can get.
Smith said when her sister, Claudette Osborne, went missing from Winnipeg in 2008, the police gave them little more than a file number.
“We had to get political and pressure the police to do their job,” she said. “No family should have to do that.”
Others pointed out that what families really want is the opportunity to reopen cases they feel were not handled properly the first time around, such as deaths determined to be accidents that they believe were actually homicides.
“Families are not looking for mainstream counselling services through victims’ services, but justice,” said Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Her organization had called for an independent review mechanism that would be overseen by the inquiry.
Wilson-Raybould said the commissioners will have the power to refer information they receive regarding criminal investigations or allegations of misconduct to the appropriate authorities.
“They also, in doing so, have the ability to provide oversight and watch what happens to the referrals that they make,” she said.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett noted a public inquiry does not have the power to find criminal wrongdoing. Further, she said, families told the government during pre-inquiry consultations that they did not want the inquiry run like a courtroom.
“What we were told is that unlike other commissions, people don’t want rooms full of lawyers sorting things out in an adversarial way,” Bennett said.