Teen Held Captive, Tortured Dismissed By Police As Runaway Case, MMIWG Inquiry Hears

Commissioner Michèle Audette hugs families from Unamen Shipu, Que., who gave devastating testimonies at the MMIWG inquiry on Wednesday in Mani-Utenam. (CBC)

Jean-Frédérick Gosselin sentenced to 5 years for attack in 2014, but Innu mother’s faith in justice is gone

The adoptive mother of an Innu teenager who was kidnapped, held captive and savagely tortured for weeks in 2011 said police never supported her in her search, dismissing her daughter’s disappearance as a runaway case.

Maria, whose real name cannot be published because her adopted daughter, now 22, was still a minor in 2011, recounted the anguish she endured in her testimony Thursday, the fourth day of Quebec hearings of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in Mani-Utenam, near Sept-Îles.

She said the then-15-year-old, who is her biological great-granddaughter, failed to come home from a pool party in Quebec City where they were living in August 2011.

After her daughter’s disappearance, Maria said she drove up and down a 1,000-kilometre stretch of highway between Quebec City and Natashquan, her home community, searching for clues and following up tips she received from friends.

“I had the impression police weren’t helping me. They weren’t nice with me when I went to ask for information,” said Maria, who added she did receive support from the Missing Children’s Network in Montreal.

Maria said her hopes were shattered several times after police called to tell her they had found her daughter, who turned out to be a different Indigenous girl, one without the distinctive birthmarks and piercings Maria had described to police.

Found naked, curled up in closet

On one of her lone trips, Maria received a phone call that police had found her daughter, curled up and naked, in an apartment closet.

She raced back to Quebec City from Sept-Îles — a nine-hour drive.

“I would never wish this on anyone,” Maria said, describing what her daughter had lived through.

“She had been knocked out, had cigarette burns all over her.”

Maria said her daughter had been held captive all that time in a home in Wendake, the Huron-Wendat enclave in Quebec City.

She told commissioners she wasn’t able to recount the details of the torture and sexual violence her daughter endured.

“She remembers vaguely that she was tied to a wall, her arms pinned in the air, and the man was throwing knives at her,” Maria said, saying she can’t shake the thought her daughter could have died at any moment.

‘There is much injustice’

The teen had tried to escape but was knocked unconscious by her perpetrator by a blow to the head. A court later heard she came to in a bathtub filled with icy-cold water. Maria said the girl suffered serious long-term injuries as a result.

Jean-Frédérick Gosselin, now 40, was charged with forcible confinement, armed assault and sexual assault.

The Crown later dropped the forcible confinement charge. Gosselin pleaded guilty to the other charges and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Maria said that the five-year sentence doesn’t begin to repair the harm he caused.

She said her daughter never received any support from Quebec’s Crime Victims Assistance Centre, CAVAC.

Maria told the inquiry she had never had faith in the judicial system, which she says is devoid of any human values.

“There is much injustice,” Maria concluded.

Maria’s own traumatic childhood

Maria said she adopted her great-granddaughter as a toddler because of the unhealthy, beer-bottle-strewn environment she found her living in.

“I went in at 4 a.m., she was still walking around in her diaper. I couldn’t believe my great-granddaughter was living in this house,” she told the commissioners.

Like many of the witnesses speaking at this inquiry, Maria has lived through many traumatic episodes.

Raised with her family in the bush near Ekuanitshit, 200 kilometres east of Sept-Îles, at eight, Maria was sent away to a sanatorium in Gaspé.

She said Innu children from all over Quebec were sent there to be treated for tuberculosis, even though she doesn’t believe she had TB.

“We played around and had lots of fun. We certainly didn’t look like sick kids,” Maria said, suggesting the children were being “used as guinea pigs.”

After 13 months in the institution, Maria returned home to her mother, where she said she was the victim of sexual abuse perpetrated by a distant relative who’d come into their tent at night.

“I was afraid if I told my mother, she’d confront him. And I couldn’t lose my mother. She was the most important thing in my life. So I buried the secret within me.”

Maria said she was then forced into a violent marriage which lasted 34 years.

She said once her children were grown, she had enough of it and left, reclaiming her life.

Peace, at last — and laughter

Now Maria said she is a happy person, grateful to have a great-great-grandchild. At times resorting to humour, Maria showed how vital that’s been to her recovery.

“My doctor told me I had one foot in the grave. I told him the other one is ready,” she said, setting off another wave of laughter from the hearing’s participants.

“Don’t be afraid to love your children. There is no shame in loving your child,” she told the audience as she finished her testimony.

Innu singers chant a song of respect for the witnesses appearing before the MMIWG inquiry and for victims of violence and their families. (Julia Page/CBC)

Innu singers chant a song of respect for the witnesses appearing before the MMIWG inquiry and for victims of violence and their families. (Julia Page/CBC)

The MMIWG hearings continued in the small Innu community until Friday.

Earlier this week, four women testified they had been victims of Alexis Joveneau, a Belgian missionary, alleging there were several others.

Joveneau, who arrived in Quebec from Belgium in the early 1950s, died in Unaman Shipu, also known as La Romaine, in 1992.

Women and men described to the inquiry’s commissioners the power Joveneau wielded over the communities, helping the government to force the people of Pakua Shipu to a new reserve 175 kilometres away in the 1960s, and the devastation left by the alleged sexual abuse.

Missing parents and children

In some cases, Innu families are speaking out for the first time in decades.

The family of Anne-Marie Jourdain said they believe their mother was murdered at the end of November 1957, while she was out trapping in the woods north of Port-Cartier, about 60 kilometres southwest of Sept-Îles.

Families from Pakua Shipu, near the Labrador border, also told commissioners how their children were never returned after being taken away for medical treatment to the nearby hospital in Blanc-Sablon in the 1970s.

A witness said death certificates were never provided for at least eight babies, who were never properly buried.

Read full story: HERE 

By Julia Page posted in CBC News, Nov 30, 2017


Justin Trudeau Berated at Hill Gathering over Missing, Murdered Women Inquiry

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood quietly with his head down Wednesday as families expressed extreme anger toward him about the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Trudeau must reset the inquiry led by four commissioners, Maggie Cywink from Whitefish River First Nation said in a speech to an annual gathering on Parliament Hill.

“If you want to be remembered as a prime minister who is healing ties with First Nations, then you must start with our women and families,” said Cywink, whose sister, Sonya Cywink, was found slain near London, Ont. in 1994.

“Will you be seen as yet another politician, in the very long list of politicians, who simply peddled in the age-old craft of empty promises?

The government’s version of reconciliation looks a lot like colonization, said Connie Greyeyes from Fort Saint John, B.C.

“How do you come out here and say that you support families?” she said.

“How dare you come out here and say these things?”

Before Trudeau began to address the audience, someone in the crowd urged that he “go home.”

He went on to thank family members for sharing their frustration and for challenging him to do better.

“The missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry is something that I have long believed in, long supported,” he said. “It was never going to be easy.”

His wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, told family members she can’t imagine what it is like to lose a loved one for “senseless reasons.”

“I stand here before you as a woman, as a mother, as a fellow Canadian, as a human being,” she said. “We are suffering with you.”

One of the inquiry’s commissioners, Michele Audette, attended the Hill event.

The Canadian Press, October 5, 2017



‘Our Women Don’t Believe in Justice’: Fear of Police Not Going Away in Lac Simon

Lac Simon Chief Adrienne Jérôme told the Viens inquiry Wednesday that women in her community ‘are afraid of the police, afraid to make a complaint. They don’t feel protected.’ (Viens inquiry)

Women in Algonquin communities closest to Val-d’Or don’t feel protected by police, chief tells inquiry

CBC News Posted: Jun 07, 2017

Women in Lac Simon are still fearful of provincial police, two years after allegations of officers abusing Indigenous women first surfaced, a Quebec inquiry heard Wednesday.

Chief Adrienne Jérôme of the Lac Simon Anishnabe Nation, just east of Val-d’Or, Que., was testifying on the third day of the commission looking into relations between Indigenous people in Quebec and government services, notably policing and justice.

“Our women don’t believe in the justice system,” Jérôme told retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens, the inquiry’s commissioner.

“They’re afraid of the police, afraid to make a complaint. They don’t feel protected.”

The Quebec government launched the inquiry last December, a year after CBC/Radio-Canada reported several Indigenous women said they’d been physically and sexually abused by provincial police officers stationed in Val-d’Or.

Montreal police investigated the complaints but no charges were ever laid.

Jérôme said that wiped away what little faith Aboriginal women had left in the justice system.

“The anger is still there. The injustice is still there,” she said.

Adrienne Anichinapeo, the chief of Kitcisakik, another Algonquin community 120 kilometres south of Val-d’Or, said the women who had the courage to come forward to complain about police treatment in 2015 feel betrayed.

Chief Adrienne Anichinapeo of Kitcisakik, a tiny Algonquin community 120 kilometres south of Val-d’Or, said women who spoke out about police abuse feel betrayed by the system’s failure to act on their complaints and have been left to fend for themselves. (Viens Inquiry)

They need psychological and social support, Anichinapeo said.

“These women have been left to fend for themselves.”

Children fear police

Jérôme said the mistrust of police is often established in childhood.

She said social workers for the government’s youth protection agency ask too much of Aboriginal parents and are too quick to seize children from their homes.

She testified youth protection workers are often accompanied by police on home visits.

“Our children are afraid of police,” she said. “When they see a police car, they burst into tears inside their homes.”

She said Lac Simon faces a host of social problems, including substance abuse, suicides, school bullying and a major housing shortage.

She said policing, education, social, health and psychological services are all chronically underfunded.

Jérôme said the First Nations communities are left begging for money, and they’re often caught between two levels of government.


Frustrated Families Vow to ‘Blockade’ Missing and Murdered Inquiry Hearings

Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, right, comforts Shirley Gunner, as John Fox looks on during a news conference regarding the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls national inquiry in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Father of murdered woman says inquiry is at a ‘crisis’ point

By John Paul Tasker, CBC News Posted: May 23, 2017

Some family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are vowing to blockade meetings of the national inquiry to protest what they call a disastrous start.

“We are prepared to take blockades against this inquiry, if it goes through our communities we will be there, it doesn’t matter where,” John Fox told reporters Tuesday.

Fox said many families are “tired of the commissioners,” the people who are responsible for collecting testimony from families, and they are frustrated with the lack of familial support. Fox said calls to the 1-800 number are not returned and emails go unanswered by the bureaucrats staffing the inquiry’s office. He wants to ensure he can get on the list of speakers when the inquiry finally rolls through his town.

“What are we supposed to do? What other things can I do to get my name on there?” he asked.

Fox, the father of Cheyenne Marie Fox, a 20-year-old woman who died in Toronto in 2013, said the inquiry has unfairly placed the blame on families for cancelling scheduled meetings this summer rather than admit they were simply not prepared.

The inquiry has said it would go ahead with the first meeting in Whitehorse at the end of the month, but suspend others until the fall because many witnesses told them that they would be out on the land hunting, trapping and harvesting and would not have time to meet with commissioners. Fox said Tuesday that was nonsense.

“They took that little bit of information, somebody said it in passing, but now they paint all our families with that one big brush, but that’s not fair,” he said. “The harvesting and all of that other stuff, that’s always going to happen … we would be there.”

‘They can’t even get the race horse out of the gate.’– John Fox

Fox said Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was able to hold pre-inquiry meetings throughout the country in a matter of months, but, nearly a year after the launch of the national inquiry, things remain largely at a standstill.

“Why can she pull off the pre-inquiry, and get all the statements in that short period of time? And this inquiry now … they don’t have an idea of what they’re going to do? All the money and expertise in front of them and they can’t even get the race horse out of the gate.”

(As of May 23, the inquiry has already spent roughly 10 per cent of its $53-million budget.)

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also voiced his frustrations Tuesday. Bellegarde said he has invited the five MMIWG commissioners to meet with family members on three different occasions but was rejected.

“Clear communication and outreach to family members are essential to rebuild trust and ensure the national inquiry is a success,” Bellegarde said, adding the process must take a “families first” approach, based on respect for survivors and their loved ones.

Jocelyn Iahtail, who has long fought for a national inquiry, said many families have simply given up hope with the process so far because it has not respected Indigenous spirituality and language.

Jocelyn Iahtail, who has long fought for a national inquiry, said many have simply given up hope with the process so far because it has not respected Indigenous spirituality and language.

She said while Marion Buller, the chief commissioner, admitted last week some mistakes had been made, more needs to be done to regain the trust of many family members. Elders are trying to speak in their Indigenous languages but are simply not understood by record keepers, she said, and there is little respect paid to sacred instruments like the drum, fire ceremonies and tobacco.

“We cannot have our sacred stories yet again shelved like every other report has been shelved. We’ve had many family members state that it is running very much like the Indian residential school process when they were meeting with adjudicators. It is like a court process. We’ve been very consistent since the beginning that it has to be Indigenous knowledge-based.”

Iahtail said the commission has also been tight-fisted with money to help families travel to inquiry meetings, and has been reluctant to provide legal services to those in need.

Buller said Friday she understands frustration from families, but chalked up problems to poor communications.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of staff issues. It’s our fault for not communicating the tremendous work we have already accomplished.”

The commission has cycled through three directors of communications in 10 months, and has been plagued by complaints from family members about compressed timelines. The first interim report from the inquiry is due by November 2017.


Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry Will Seek Extension, Admits To ‘Poor Communication’

Marion Buller, left, Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, along with her colleague, commissioner Michele Audette, in February 2017.

  • Staff – National Post | May 19, 2017

The chief commissioner of the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls has admitted to a “poor communication strategy” in the wake of intense criticism about the inquiry’s progress.

The commission is also planning to ask for an extension, now that only one hearing is scheduled to take place before the fall.

During a Friday afternoon press conference, Marion Buller said the commissioners are taking steps to improve communication.

The inquiry has hired a new communications officer, Bernee Bolton. Former communications director Michael Hutchinson was let go earlier this year, after only a few months.

“We take full responsibility for our poor communication strategy,” Buller said. “We fully acknowledge that and take responsibility for it.”

Buller was responding to an open letter published earlier this week, signed by more than 50 family members, indigenous leaders and advocates, claiming the inquiry is “in serious trouble.”

“We are deeply concerned with the continued lack of communication that is causing anxiety, frustration, confusion, and disappointment in this long-awaited process,” it read.

The letter raised concerns that the inquiry lacks leadership and is re-traumatizing family members of missing and murdered indigenous women.

But Buller said communication is the major issue, not leadership or staffing issues.

Some families have recently told news outlets they’re losing faith in the inquiry. But Buller said she’s been receiving calls from others who say “those people don’t speak for us.”

“I can tell you there’s still a lot of hope out there,” she told reporters.

The commission was supposed to complete its final report by November 2018.

But in a response to the open letter published Friday, Buller acknowledged that the inquiry’s original timelines “are no longer achievable.”

She wouldn’t say how long of an extension the commissioners might request.

At this point, there is only one hearing firmly scheduled, in Whitehorse at the end of the month. A team from the inquiry was in the territory this week to prepare for the week-long hearing that will begin May 29.

“The Whitehorse hearing is going ahead as planned,” Buller said Friday. “We owe that to the community.”

In the Yukon, it seems, many still have faith in the process, despite its flaws.

“I think it’s important,” said Bryan Jack, whose sister, Barbara, went missing as a teenager in Whitehorse in the 1970s. “It brings breathing room to a community that’s having a hard time.”

We are deeply concerned with the continued lack of communication that is causing anxiety, frustration, confusion, and disappointment

In many ways, the territory has been laying the groundwork for this moment for months.

After the first national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women was held in Ottawa in February 2015, the Yukon government and local indigenous groups decided to host their own events in Whitehorse. They organized a gathering for family members in December 2015, and a regional roundtable in February 2016 — months before the national inquiry was officially launched.

Jack was among those who shared their stories at the roundtable.

Afterward, he said, the local RCMP detachment followed up with him to see if he wanted to discuss his sister’s case any further.

“I really had a lot of respect for (the process),” he said.

Doris Anderson, president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, said that regional roundtable “let the families know that they are being heard.”

Demonstrators hold pictures of missing aboriginal women at a rally on Parliament Hill .

The women’s council and several other indigenous groups have been instrumental in advocating for families and making sure they feel comfortable coming forward, even months after the roundtable.

Anderson is among those who signed the open letter criticizing the commission this week. But she’s still optimistic about the inquiry’s future.

“We were the first to begin with, so of course there’s going to be some stumbling blocks,” she said. “I think they’re working really hard to ensure that the process gets a lot smoother.”

The Yukon government declined a request for comment from the National Post. But Jeanie Dendys, minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, wrote a letter to Buller in March inviting the commission to come to the Yukon.

“I also want to take this opportunity to request relevant, timely and transparent communication for our people,” she wrote.

For his part, Jack still isn’t sure he’ll make it to the hearing, as it’s nearly summer and he’s busy. But he said he’ll go if he can.

“Nowadays, it’s like the fire’s lit beneath the people with the authority,” he said. “And we’ve just got to get on with it.”


Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Women a Failure: Indigenous Group

People march during the 26th Annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver in February, 2016.
(Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

The Globe and Mail | May 16, 2017

The organization that was the loudest voice in calling for a public investigation of why so many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada says the inquiry launched to determine the societal causes of the tragedy has, so far, been a dismal failure.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) will issue its second report card on the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women on Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained in advance by The Globe and Mail. The discouraging appraisal follows repeated complaints by advocates, family members and others that the process announced in late 2015 is falling far behind its intended pace and that communications to those who are most anxious for its findings have been insufficient or non-existent.

“This many months into the inquiry, we cannot afford to be nice any more,” said Francyne Joe, NWAC’s interim president. “Families are upset, they’re getting discouraged and we need to see action on the part of the commissioners to ensure that this inquiry is going to be family-first and is going to be respectful to the missing and murdered women.”

On Monday, families of victims, Indigenous leaders and advocates for those who have lost loved ones wrote an open letter to chief commissioner Marion Buller saying they fear the $53.8-million inquiry is in “serious trouble” for many reasons but, primarily “a lack of communication that is causing frustration, confusion and disappointment in this long-awaited process.”

The commission did not respond to that letter by deadline on Monday. But the report from NWAC echoes its complaints.

On 10 out of 15 measures – from structure to communications to transparency to respect for the families of victims – the inquiry was given failing marks. In three areas it received cautions. In two others, NWAC said there was not enough information to make an assessment. It was given no passing grades.

The report says, among other things, that the inquiry has failed to announce its timelines or issue regular progress reports and has left families and the media in the dark. The commissioners, it says, have created a sense of “desperation and urgency” by not making themselves available and not communicating regularly, and the money spent to date has not been best used to allow families to engage in the process.

NWAC charges that the inquiry is not being set up to take into account the trauma suffered by victims’ loved ones, and that it has failed in its mandates to promote reconciliation, contribute to public awareness and to allow families and community members to share their experiences and views.

Communication has been the biggest failure, Ms. Joe said. The media, not the commission, she said, informed NWAC last week that the lone opportunity for families to testify this spring will be at the end of May, and the remainder of family testimony, which had been expected to continue throughout the summer, would not be scheduled until fall.

“My biggest fear at this point is that this is not going to be a family-first inquiry, that families are going to come third,” Ms. Joe said. “There’s a lot of discussions around the technical side of things, there’s a lot of discussions around the legal side of things. But there’s not enough discussions as to how families are going to be part of this. And they have been the ones fighting for this inquiry for decades.”

A spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said on Monday that, despite the concerns being raised, the minister believes enough time and resources have been made available for the inquiry to do its work.

A 2014 report by the RCMP said the force had identified nearly 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who disappeared or were slain in recent decades, and some critics suggest the Mounties’ list is far from complete. Families and advocates want to know why Indigenous women and girls are victims of violence far more often than other women in Canada.

The letter from families and others, which was posted on Monday to the website of Indigenous artist Christi Belcourt – a long-time advocate for the environment and Indigenous people – says people across the country are loudly raising alarms.

The letter’s signatories, which include more than 50 people and organizations, say it is clear that the approach of the inquiry must be “fundamentally shifted” and asks the chief commissioner to respond by May 22.

Ms. Belcourt said in a telephone interview that the letter came together in about a week and it was easy to obtain signatures. In fact, she said, more families and Indigenous leaders stepped forward in support of it on Monday after it was made public.

People wanted to give the inquiry time to work, Ms. Belcourt said, “but it’s simply got to the point where it’s become very obvious that it’s unravelling, and that it’s not functioning all.”


Families Unsure Whether To Take Part In Missing Indigenous Women Inquiry

Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (CBC)

Manitoba coalition for MMIW families hosted meeting to talk over inquiry in Winnipeg on Saturday

  • Staff | The Canadian Press Posted: May 14, 2017

Some families of missing and murdered Indigenous women remain uncertain if they should take part in a national inquiry aimed at examining the violence in their communities, according to a group representing them.

Representatives of the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition said a meeting Saturday to talk over the responses from inquiry staff to major questions have failed to produce clear answers.

The group has raised concerns about the inquiry process and how traumatized families and survivors will be treated.

Coalition co-chair Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said these people need to be confident that it will be worthwhile for them to get involved.

“They need to give reassurance their voices will be heard in a good way and a meaningful way,” Anderson-Pyrz said following the four-hour-long, closed-door meeting in Winnipeg’s North End.

A major worry among the families is that the inquiry, announced by the federal government in December 2015, will be conducted within a framework that doesn’t account for Indigenous ways and traditions, said Sandra DeLaronde, also a coalition co-chair.

“If we let the inquiry go on its own, it will completely be in a legal tradition,” said DeLaronde. “It’s the only chance we’re going to get, and if it’s not done right, we’ve lost the opportunity.”

‘We’re still in the dark’

More than 30 people attended the meeting, according to attendee Sue Caribou, who has seen several of her relatives murdered and others go missing.

“We’re still in the dark,” Caribou said.

The coalition sent 43 questions to inquiry officials after an earlier meeting with the inquiry’s commissioners in Winnipeg.

That meeting came a few weeks after the inquiry postponed a series of regional advisory meetings supposed to help determine what issues should be covered when formal hearings get underway.

A copy of the questions and responses was supplied to The Canadian Press by people who attended Saturday’s meeting.

One question was whether the inquiry’s five commissioners and staff will receive “trauma informed” training. No one from the inquiry’s “health team” at the May 4 meeting assisted a family member who broke down and left, the coalition said in the document.

The coalition also asked how the inquiry will reach families and survivors in Canada’s isolated or northern communities and those who don’t use social media.

Inquiry officials responded that commissioners, directors and most of the staff will be trained in June 2017. They responded the inquiry is still working on an outreach strategy which may include “posters, podcasts on local radio stations.”

The inquiry is to complete its work and wrap up by December 2018, and the document says it is planning to do its work within the existing timeframe and budget.

Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), said the inquiry might need longer than its current timeline to do the job in a meaningful way. (CBC)

Sheila North Wilson, the grand chief of an organization advocating for northern Manitoba First Nations, said it may not be enough time to get the job done in a meaningful way.

“The biggest need, immediately, that I see is we need to provide better resources and opportunities for our women and girls and families because ultimately that’s what leads to what happens,” she said.

“Women become vulnerable, people that take advantage of vulnerability have their way and then become victims of this issue.”


Manitoba Families of Missing, Murdered Say Hearings Must Go Ahead

An open letter signed by officials with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition says the hearings have been long in coming and families are anxious. (Francis Vachon/The Canadian Press)

Staff | The Canadian Press – April 25, 2017

A coalition that represents Manitoba family members says national hearings into missing and murdered indigenous women must begin soon despite the uncertainty surrounding the process.

An open letter signed by officials with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition says the hearings, slated to begin at the end of May, have been long in coming and families are anxious.

“Indigenous families, women and girls cannot afford a ‘pause’ in your process. We have heard directly from families of (missing and murdered indigenous women) they are quickly losing hope that your inquiry will actually be relevant to them,” states the letter, dated last Wednesday.

“We call on you to, at a minimum, announce in the near future when you, as commissioners, will finally go out and listen to our people.”

Inquiry officials announced April 13 that they were postponing a series of regional advisory meetings, which were supposed to help determine what issues should be covered when the formal hearings get underway.

Since then, the Manitoba coalition said there has been no communication. The group is also worried many family members may have a hard time being included in the hearings.

“You have not yet initiated meetings with Manitoba survivors of violence or who were missing, families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, as well as First Nations and communities that are part of your mandate,” the letter states.

A spokesperson for the inquiry commission said Monday the advisory hearings were put on pause to look at possible changes for the inquiry hearings, and the May start date is still a go.

“The message we received is that we must be flexible and be prepared to change course if need be. This time is an opportunity for us to reflect on our approach for future truth-finding gatherings,” Tiar Wilson wrote in an email.

The uncertainty over how families across Canada may be ensured participation in the inquiry has led some indigenous leaders to call for the inquiry to be postponed.

Eric Robinson, former deputy premier and aboriginal affairs minister of Manitoba, said a delay is warranted to ensure the inquiry is fair and thorough.

“Let’s not do a job that’s in half-measures. I think that it’s got to be done in a thorough fashion and there’s got to be satisfaction … for the families,” Robinson said.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents First Nations in northern Manitoba, said the process so far has been troublesome.

“I still believe that it should take place and that they should go forward and I respect the fact that they’re being flexible,” she said.

“But at the same time, I’m worried that the families … are losing a little bit of faith in the process because there seem to be some false starts.”


Advocates Say Missing And Murdered Women’s Inquiry Failing To Reach Out To Families

Lorelei Williams, left, speaks as Fay Blaney, right, listens during a Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls news conference in Vancouver on April 3, 2017. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Canadian Press | Apr. 03, 2017

The national missing and murdered Indigenous women’s inquiry has failed to adequately reach out to loved ones and survivors, says a coalition of advocacy groups and families less than two months before hearings are set to begin.

The Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in British Columbia is calling on the commission and federal, provincial and territorial governments to do a better job of communicating with distraught families.

“This is the last chance that family members who want to be heard, will be heard,” said Michele Pineault, the mother of Stephanie Lane, whose DNA was found on serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm. “This inquiry is very, very important to a lot of people.”

Coalition member Fay Blaney said at a news conference on Monday that the group was concerned about recent media reports that said the inquiry had only located about 100 family members or survivors.

An RCMP report in 2014 said police had identified nearly 1,200 missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Ms. Blaney said she understood the federal government had not shared with commissioners the names of those who came forward during preinquiry consultations due to privacy obligations.

She said the commission should immediately request that all levels of government and Indigenous organizations reach out to family members and survivors to ensure they know how to register to be a witness.

The coalition is also concerned that federal, provincial and territorial governments appear not to be assisting the inquiry, Ms. Blaney added.

Chief commissioner Marion Buller was not immediately available to comment, but the inquiry is holding a series of regional advisory meetings across the country to receive input from survivors and families before the first public hearing on May 29 in Whitehorse.

The commission has said families and survivors who would like to share their stories do not need to apply for standing and should instead send an e-mail or call a toll-free number.

But Lorelei Williams, whose aunt went missing decades ago and whose cousin’s DNA was found on Mr. Pickton’s farm, said the commission should be pro-actively reaching out.

“I’m feeling so frustrated and very upset about what is going on with this inquiry so far,” she said. “Families are freaking out right now.” Ms. Williams questioned why preinquiry consultations were held at all, if not to collect names of family members for the inquiry.

“What did they do that for?” she asked. “I’m going to assume that those families put their names forward for a reason. … They want to be a part of this.”

Shawn Jackson, a spokesman for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, said it transferred to the national inquiry in November a database of information collected during the preinquiry process, including meeting recordings and correspondence.

However, Mr. Jackson said many people participated in the consultations anonymously and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is prevented by privacy rules from providing the lists of participants.

The coalition is also urging the inquiry to make efforts to include “families of the heart,” or friends. Evelyn Youngchief’s friend Georgina Papin was killed by Mr. Pickton and she said many friends of the missing and murdered would like to speak.

“We’ve been waiting for a very long time,” she said. “Changes need to be made on how aboriginal women are looked at. Stop killing us.”

Stephanie Lane’s mother, Ms. Pineault, said it has been difficult to tell her story over and over again for the past 20 years.

“It’s at a point now where I just want to say, ‘I want a life of normalcy. I just want to stay home and not have anything to do with this.’ But I have to do it to the bitter end.”


Why Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Should Resist Calls to Include Men

A new coalition called Expand the Inquiry wants violence against men and boys included in the MMIW inquiry. Its use of statistics downplays the violence inflicted on Indigenous women. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

A new coalition called Expand the Inquiry wants violence against men and boys included in the MMIW inquiry. Its use of statistics downplays the violence inflicted on Indigenous women. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Coalition that wants men and boys included is aligned with controversial men’s rights group

By Stephanie Cram, CBC News Posted: Dec 17, 2016

Last week, a new coalition called Expand the Inquiry met with federal officials to argue for the need to expand the terms and scope of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women to include men and boys.

The coalition’s leader, Chief Ernie Crey of Cheam First Nation in British Columbia, became an advocate for Indigenous women after his sister, Dawn Crey, was killed by Robert Pickton.

Crey said he refocused his attention after hearing from families across the country about the lack of advocacy for missing and murdered Indigenous men.

Chief Ernie Crey of Expand the Inquiry says his group didn't research the previous campaigns of the Canadian Association for Equality before joining forces. (CBC )

Chief Ernie Crey of Expand the Inquiry says his group didn’t research the previous campaigns of the Canadian Association for Equality before joining forces. (CBC )

His coalition argues that because 70 per cent of murdered Indigenous people are men, they should be included in the inquiry.

But that statistic doesn’t change the fact that Indigenous women face a significantly higher rate of violent victimization than men, including physical and sexual assault.

And it doesn’t change the fact the MMIW inquiry was created to explain why Indigenous women are targeted and find ways to stop it.

Those explanations and solutions would be much different in the case of violence against Indigenous men and boys.

What stands out most about the Expand the Inquiry coalition is that it has aligned itself with the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) — one of the loudest and most controversial voices in so-called men’s rights activism.

The group has been accused of trying to spread misleading information about domestic violence, including with a billboard ad in Toronto last year that suggested men are as likely as women to be victims.

The Canadian Association for Equality put up this billboard ad in Toronto in 2015. (CBC)

The Canadian Association for Equality put up this billboard ad in Toronto in 2015. (CBC)

Crey admits Expand the Inquiry didn’t vet CAFE.

“They were the group that came forward, and said can we join forces … I haven’t delved into their history, their campaigns or issues they’ve involved themselves in,” Crey said.

“I would be the last one to say that everyone and anyone I’ve ever worked with can be painted lily white … without blemish.”

‘Many, many inquiries’

CAFE spokesman Justin Trottier says the stories of missing and murdered men should be included in the inquiry because violence against Indigenous women has already been extensively studied.

“We’ve had many, many inquiries into murdered and missing girls and women; this isn’t the first one,” he said.

That’s simply not true.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry examined the disappearances of women along B.C.'s Highway of Tears. (Wikimedia)

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry examined the disappearances of women along B.C.’s Highway of Tears. (Wikimedia)

In 2010, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in B.C. examined the disappearances of women along the Highway of Tears, a stretch between Prince Rupert and Prince George, but didn’t specifically examine the unique circumstances of Indigenous women who’d gone missing or been murdered.

Neither has any other federal or provincial inquiry.

Domestic violence statistics

Expand the Inquiry’s argument relies on the same de-contextualized piece of data that CAFE used for its billboard.

“So-called gender based violence, or domestic violence is [thought to be] something that men perpetrate on women,” Trottier told CBC News. “And actually when we do the research we find that both men and women experience domestic violence at comparable rates.”

That rate is four per cent, according to a Statistics Canada survey — as opposed to statistics in the same report based on police data.

But of those men and women who said they were abused, the women were twice as likely to have experienced the most violent forms of spousal abuse, including being sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a gun or knife.

Plus, the violence against Indigenous women the inquiry was created to study extends far beyond the home.

A 2016 Statistics Canada report found Indigenous women experience double the rate of violent victimization of Indigenous men. And triple that of non-Indigenous women.

The disparity is clear. Explaining it is complicated, which is why the inquiry is focused on women.

‘They were the group that came forward, and said can we join forces … I haven’t delved into their history, their campaigns or issues they’ve involved themselves in.’– Chief Ernie Crey, Expand the Inquiry

But stats aside, Trottier says the inquiry is starting out with problematic assumptions about the nature of violence against Indigenous people.

“If this is a sincere effort to understand the root cause of violence in Indigenous communities … then I don’t think we should go in already decided that the problem is one of solely violence against women,” Trottier said. “It might actually be issues that affect both men and women.”

Terms of inquiry are broad

He says Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has said the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys could be included in the inquiry.

“The terms of the inquiry are broad enough, that if the commissioners wanted they could include hearings where families would talk about missing and murdered sons, husbands [and] male loved ones,” Trottier said.

Still, there’s disagreement within the coalition about whether the inquiry’s terms need to be changed.

Commissioners, from left, Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women back in August. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Commissioners, from left, Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women back in August. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Trottier says yes, but Crey says he’s optimistic families of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys will be allowed to share their stories.

“What I’m trying to do in my advocacy work is to try to reach out to these families and say … ‘Please go to the inquiry, and share your story.’ I don’t think these families will be turned away,” Crey said.

Their stories deserve to be told, but the question is whether splitting the focus of this particular inquiry is a useful idea.

The statistics would suggest the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls got its name for a reason.