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




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.


Sagkeeng First Nation Mourns Slain Teen at Vigil Attended by Hundreds

Family, friends and supporters met at Sagkeeng’s powwow grounds on Thursday as part of a vigil for Serena McKay. (CBC)

Serena McKay was found dead on Sunday; 2 teens have since been charged with her murder

CBC News Posted: Apr 27, 2017

Hundreds of people from Sagkeeng First Nation came together Thursday night in honour of a 19-year-old woman from the community who was killed over the weekend.

Serena McKay was found dead on Sunday in the community of roughly 4,000 people, 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The body of Serena McKay, 19, was found Sunday evening in Sagkeeng First Nation. Two teenage girls have been arrested in connection with her death. (Del Daniels/Facebook)

On Thursday, family, friends and supporters met at Sagkeeng’s powwow grounds to honour her memory and begin community healing.

“I didn’t really know her. It’s just really devastating, because I have a sister. When I heard about that, it kind of touched me,” said Elvis Atkinson, 20.

“The community needs to open up their eyes on the younger generation … how these young generation drink, drugs in the community.”

McKay had recently moved to Sagkeeng and was set to graduate high school in June. Two girls from her school, aged 16 and 17, have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death.

People at Thursday’s vigil for Serena McKay say the community needs to begin healing. (CBC)

Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School principal Claude Guimond said the environment at the vigil was moving and emotional. Indigenous leaders including Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Kevin Hart were in attendance, he added.

“There’s nothing so devastating as losing a young life like that, so senselessly taken, before she even started to live, really, you know? Never got that chance,” he said. “That’s one of the most devastating things to endure.”

Elvis Atkinson, 20, lives on Sagkeeng First Nation. He didn’t know Serena McKay personally, but said her death moved him. (CBC)

Guimond said ceremony and tradition play a powerful role in community healing.

“Of course, the drumming, you know, that’s the heartbeat of our nation,” he said. “That’s the heartbeat of Anishinaabe people, is the drum, and it’s so strong.”

Claude Guimond, principal of Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School, said the Thursday evening vigil was moving and emotional. (CBC)


Hundreds Gather at Vigil and March for Christine Wood in Winnipeg

Christine Wood, 21, disappeared in Winnipeg in August 2016. Photo: Red Power Media

Hundreds remembered Christine Wood at a vigil on Wednesday 

By Red Power Media, Staff | April 13, 2017

A vigil was held Wednesday evening in Winnipeg for Christine Wood. It began at 341-Burrows Avenue, the house where Winnipeg Police believe the young indigenous woman was murdered. Friends, family and community members then marched to Thunderbird House on Main Street.

About 250 people gathered to remember Christine.

During the march drummers lined the street to pay their respects to Christine’s family.

On Aug. 19, Christine, 21, went missing after a visit to Winnipeg with her family from Oxford House First Nation in Manitoba. She never came back to her hotel after going out that evening.

On Saturday, April 08, Brett Overby, 30, was charged with the murder of Christine.

Police also allege Christine was killed on or around Aug. 20 – the day after she went missing.


Officers arrested and charged Overby, with second-degree murder. Christine’s body has still not been found.

A community vigil for Christine was held at St. Mary’s Parish on 365 Burrows Avenue, near the location where she was killed. The service was put on by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the Bear Clan Patrol.

Melinda Wood weeps as she attends a walk for her daughter Christine with her husband George Wood, left, and Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth, right. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth led the march alongside Christine’s parents, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.

The march finished with a memorial at the Thunderbird House.

Marchers make their way to a memorial for Christine at the Thunderbird House. Photo: Red Power Media

Police say the accused and Christine were unknown to one another and it does not appear there was a relationship between them.

Christine’s family and her parents George and Melinda Wood, along with members of the community, including the Bear Clan Patrol, have all been looking for Christine since her disappearance on Aug. 19.

“I can’t really explain how it feels to lose a child like that, a daughter, your only daughter, your baby,” George Wood, Christine’s father said. “I just hope whoever this person is, and I’m not going to waste my words labeling him, I just hope he does the right thing to say where he put her body.”

People living on the Oxford House First Nation also gathered for a vigil to honour Christine last Saturday.

Brett Overby Charged with Second Degree Murder in Christine Wood Homicide, Body Still Missing

Christine Wood, 21, disappeared after she went out with friends for the evening on Aug. 19, 2016. (File Image)

Police believe Christine Wood killed hours after going missing

By Black Powder | RPM Staff, April 10, 2017

Days after police charged a Winnipeg man with second-degree murder in the disappearance of Christine Wood, officers said they still have not found her body.

According to Global News, on Saturday, Brett Overby, 30, was charged with the murder of Christine Wood, 21. Documents also allege Wood was killed on or around Aug. 20 – the day after she went missing.

On Aug. 19, after going out that evening, Wood from Oxford House First Nation, never returned to the hotel where her family was staying after coming to Winnipeg for a medical appointment.

The case was treated at a missing person’s investigation until January 2017, when the homicide unit took over as lead investigators.

Overby, was arrested March 21 after police searched a home in the 300 block of Burrows Ave. At the time, he was charged with an unrelated offence.

CTV News reports, Winnipeg Police Service Sergeant John O’Donovan said officers ended up at that home as a result of information from a number of warrants and production orders on electronic devices Wood used prior to her death.

The Forensic Identification Unit stayed at the home for several days.

Overby, was questioned, but he was let go as there wasn’t enough forensic evidence to lay any charges.

Brett Overby, 30, was charged with the murder of Christine Wood, 21. Instagram. Source Global News

On April 6, forensics tests came back and the following day the Crown Attorney authorized a second degree murder charge against Overby.

Police were able to provide evidence to the Crown’s office that Wood, not only was she present, but she was killed in that house.

Although police believe Wood was killed in Overby’s home, they do not have any information from the accused on where her body is.

During a media conference Monday, Police Chief Danny Smyth said “We will continue on this investigation until we find her remains.”

In September the police said there were “multiple sightings of Wood.” They also said she was was facing some “personal challenges” and may be associated with people tied to drug trade.

However, police now say, they do not believe drugs or gang affiliations are involved.

Police also say the accused and Wood were unknown to one another prior to Aug. 19 and it does not appear there was a relationship between them.

Winnipeg police press conference concerning Christine Wood, Monday.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson was at the media conference speaking on behalf of Wood’s family.

“After the most difficult eight months of our lives, we are mourning the loss of our daughter,” North Wilson said in a statement written by Wood’s family.

The family will be in Winnipeg for a vigil on Wednesday.

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.”


‘We Want The Violence to Stop’: Dozens Gather at Vigil for Jeanenne Fontaine

Lana Fontaine sat on a stool outside her largely burned-down home on Saturday evening at a vigil for her daughter, Jeanenne Fontaine, who died on Wednesday after being taken off life-support. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Fontaine, 29, and Shania Chartrand, 21, were both shot, killed in Winnipeg this week

CBC News Posted: Mar 18, 2017

When Kimberley Kostiuk thinks about the two young Indigenous women who were shot in Winnipeg within 48 hours of each other, she is afraid for her own daughters.

“I have two young daughters that are that age. I worry for them all the time. You just don’t know … what’s going to be next. Two young women shot and killed in one week,” she said.

Shania Chartrand, 21, was shot late last Sunday night on the 200 block of Spence Street.

On Tuesday, Jeanenne Fontaine, 29, was found in her home after she was shot in the back of the head, according to her family, and the house was set on fire. She was rushed to hospital but died on Wednesday morning, after being taken off life-support.

A vigil for Fontaine took place on Saturday at 7 p.m. outside her home on the 400 block of Aberdeen Avenue.

“The whole community is sad. We are all sad. We are very scared,” Kostiuk said.

“We want the violence to stop. It’s enough, we are losing too many of our young women too soon. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Mourners came forward to offer Lana Fontaine condolences throughout the evening. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Fontaine was the cousin of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl whose death sparked public outrage and calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Sandy Banman was one of around 50 people who attended the Saturday evening vigil. Banman hadn’t known Fontaine or Chartrand, but came to support the families and community.

“It just seems like something has shifted in the last few years, where the crime [in the North End] seems to be getting extremely … violent,” she said. “It’s just absolutely shocking what’s going on here this week in the city, with Shania’s loss as well as Jen’s loss.”

A member of Winnipeg’s Urban Warrior Alliance, Banman said she’s been to too many vigils in the past. She wants to see change.

Sandy Banman

Sandy Banman, a member of the Urban Warrior Alliance, said she wants to see more accessible detox programs for men, women and families in Winnipeg. (CBC)

“We just keep saying over and over, ‘This has got to stop,’ every vigil I do,” she said. “We do these vigils because the community needs to heal as well as families. This violence has to end. It has to stop.”

Banman said she wanted to see more accessible detox programs for men, women and families.

“We need to be healing families so this kind of crime and violence will end,” she said.

‘They are human beings’

Kostiuk is a member of Drag the Red, an organization that started searching the Red River for bodies after Tina Fontaine was found there.

Kostiuk joined the group in order to heal and to help others after her 16-year-old daughter’s death in 2000.

While Fontaine struggled with drug use and had a criminal record, Kostiuk said she was also a mother and sister.

“You hear a lot of negativity also about these people but people don’t know them,” she said.

“They are human beings. They are women. They are our women. They are mothers. They are sisters. They are grandmas. They don’t deserve this. Nobody does.”

Kimberley Kostiuk says the violence needs to stop after two young Indigenous women were shot in Winnipeg within 48 hours of each other. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The vigil was intended to give the community an opportunity to mourn Fontaine and Chartrand and “remember the good that they had in them,” Kostiuk said. But they are becoming too frequent for the Fontaine family, she added.

“That poor family, I can’t imagine what her mother is going through right now,” Kostiuk said, adding the little cousins have lost too many family members.

“They’ve been to so many vigils already. They shouldn’t even have to think of this at a young age.”


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.


MMIW Commission Won’t Hear Testimony from Families Until Spring 2017

This painting by artist Dave Fadden, called Scream of the Silenced, is a mosaic of tiny intricate designs, representing the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

This painting by artist Dave Fadden, called Scream of the Silenced, is a mosaic of tiny intricate designs, representing the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Families ‘in the dark’ 3 months after inquiry into missing and murdered women launched, advocate says

By Nicole Ireland, CBC News Posted: Dec 04, 2016

Three months after the official launch of the long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, a spokesman says the commissioners won’t start hearing formal testimony from the families until the spring of 2017.

“It is important that we take the time to put necessary support systems in place, such as hiring staff and creating outreach plans, before formally beginning the inquiry process this spring,” said Michael Hutchinson, the commission’s recently appointed director of communications, in an email to CBC News.

The independent inquiry led by five commissioners formally began on Sept. 1. The federal government directed the commission to find out why hundreds of First Nations, Métis and Inuit women have disappeared or been murdered in Canada.

Its mandate includes making recommendations on how to remove systemic causes of violence and increase safety for Indigenous women and girls, as well as honouring those who have been killed or gone missing. The commission’s final report is due Nov. 1, 2018.

But Indigenous women’s advocates, initially relieved that their repeated calls for an inquiry had finally been heeded, say the families of missing and murdered women and girls have been “left in the dark” for the last three months.

From left, commissioners Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Sept. 1. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

From left, commissioners Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Sept. 1. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

“It’s very emotional for these families to figure out what’s going on,” said Francyne Joe, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). “There’s been very, very limited movement forward.”

The testimony of survivors and families will be central to the inquiry’s work. But families haven’t been able to prepare themselves for the difficult task of telling their stories, Joe said, because they don’t know whether it will be a matter of weeks or months before they are called to testify.

Joe, who is from British Columbia, said an Indigenous women’s advocate in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has asked her to come and meet with families who are upset to the point that they’re talking about not taking part in the inquiry at all.

For years, families who have lost women and girls they love have come to NWAC for help, Joe said, and she hopes she’ll be able to help alleviate their concerns.

“I think as each week passes by, they’re feeling more and more disengaged,” she said. “This needs to be a transparent process.”

“We want to work with the commissioners. We want to make sure that this succeeds.”

Commission understands anxiety

After three months, the MMIW commission still doesn’t have a website for families wanting to find out more information on how to participate in the inquiry.

A government of Canada website provides some basic information and lists a toll-free crisis line people can call if they are dealing with trauma associated with missing and murdered Indigenous women. That website also states that the inquiry “is independent from the federal government” and that “contact information for the inquiry will be posted as soon as it is available.”

An MMIW inquiry website and “social channels” will be ready “within the next several weeks,” Hutchinson said.

Francyne Joe

Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, says families of missing and murdered Indigenous women want the commission to let them know ‘what’s going on, when is it going on, what do I need to do?’ (Native Women’s Association of Canada )

Since September, the commission has been building its infrastructure and hiring staff, as well as “designing a trauma informed process to receive the statements and testimonies of the survivors and families,” a separate statement attributed to the inquiry commissioners said. “In addition, the commission is working toward the inclusion of Indigenous protocols and practices within its hearing process.”

Joe understands that it takes time to hire staff, including Indigenous counsellors and people to manage the information that will be collected throughout the inquiry. But Indigenous organizations were led to believe that consultations with families would start in January, she said, and she wishes they had been provided with “an honest timeline” from the beginning that they, in turn, could share with affected families.

“[It would have] lessened the amount of stress,” Joe said. “Families would feel more optimistic as to how things are going at this point.”

The national organization representing Inuit women, Pauktuutit, also expressed concern in October about a lack of information coming from the MMIW inquiry.

Commissioners have since started holding biweekly conference calls with Pauktuutit, NWAC and other Indigenous organizations to try to improve communication.

“We feel a bit better about being informed,” Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit, told CBC.

Rebecca Kudloo

‘We want this inquiry to be meaningful for Inuit, especially for the families,’ says Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada)

“We have promised the families of the murdered and missing that Pauktuutit will keep them updated as to what will happen with the inquiry,” she said. “We’re trying our very best.”

The commissioners recognize people’s frustration, but insist the time they’re taking to get things done is necessary.

“The commission understands that the survivors and families are anxious to have an opportunity to be heard,” according to its statement. “Towards that end, the commission is committed to designing a process which will respect the survivors, families, and all those who need to be heard and will promote reconciliation and healing across the country.”

Joe and Kudloo agree it’s critical the commission has culturally appropriate emotional support in place before, during and after those meetings.

“We don’t want the commission coming in, opening wounds and leaving,” said Kudloo.

But Joe said she believes it’s possible “to move forward faster, but still effectively.”

“This isn’t the first time the government has had an inquiry or a commission,” she said. “I mean, we want to make sure that the right supports are in place. But they knew this [before].”


Annie Pootoogook Death: Ottawa Police Probe Cop’s Racist Comments Posted Online

annie pootoogook

Annie Pootoogook is framed by her artwork on display at the Power Plant in Toronto on June 22, 2006. (Photo: Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

“This by no means suggests that the whole thing is suspicious. We just want to clear up a few things, because some of it is just not sitting right with us.”

Pirt refused to divulge any specifics about what changed for investigators for fear of tainting the pool of potential witnesses.

News of the death of Pootoogook, an influential artist whose drawings are on display at the National Gallery of Canada, came as a shock to many and garnered national attention when it was first disclosed last week.

Officer under investigation for racist online comments

Not all of the responses were sympathetic.

APTN National News reported Tuesday that derogatory comments posted online — apparently in response to comments linking the death to the broader issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls — have been linked to an Ottawa police officer.

“Of course this has nothing to do with missing or murdered Aboriginal women…..it’s not a murder case….it’s could be a suicide, accidental, she got drunk and fell in the river and drowned who knows…..typically many Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not,” the first comment read, according to screenshots published by APTN.

A second comment posted by the same person said that indigenous Canadians are “satisfied being alcohol or drug abusers.”

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau is investigating, spokeswoman Carol Macpherson wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“We are aware of the complaint regarding the comments posted online by an (Ottawa Police Service) member,” Macpherson said.

“A chief’s complaint has been initiated and an investigation is underway. We won’t have any further comment at this time.”

Local student complained to police, mayor

Veldon Coburn, a PhD student in political science who is studying indigenous issues, alerted Bordeleau and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to the comments when he saw they appeared to have been posted by a police officer.

“It’s troubling that somebody that is in a privileged position within the administration of justice would harbour these kinds of sentiments,” Coburn said in an interview.

“It should be exposed. It should be aired.”

The national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, which began its preliminary work last month, is expected to explore the actions of police forces and the complaints of family members who say their cases were not taken seriously, tainted by racist attitudes or otherwise mishandled.

“It should be exposed. It should be aired.”

Pirt said none of that will have any bearing on his investigation.

“We treat each case on an individual basis and regardless of who the person is, if there are factors surrounding the death that are suspicious, regardless of the person, we are going to look into that death,” Pirt said.

“We are giving it attention — quite a bit of attention — simply because it requires it.”

Pootoogook was born in Cape Dorset, Nunavut and came from a family of artists. Her work has been featured at various exhibitions since 2002.

Police are asking anyone who has information about Pootoogook’s whereabouts in the days before Sept. 19, when they recovered her body, to contact investigators.

The Canadian Press


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