(Conrad Burns (left) and Pernell Ballantyne are walking to Prince Albert from Saskatoon, Sask. Submitted photo)
With 100 families still looking to share their stories two men are trying to bring the national inquiry back to Saskatchewan.
And they’re doing so by walking from Saskatoon to Prince Albert, a distance of 150 kilometres, in temperatures dipping to -30C.
“It’s cold but it’s for the right reason,” said Conrad Burns, 40, in a telephone interview as he and his friend Pernell Ballantyne headed towards the highway Friday.
“I’m wearing three layers, Pernell is wearing two.”
It’s the second time these two have joined together to walk in this kind of weather.
“I did it three years ago in memory of my sister, Monica Lee Burns, who was murdered, and all missing and murdered women,” said Ballantyne.
“Now I’m doing it to get the national inquiry to come back to Saskatchewan.”
At least “100 families” are waiting to tell their stories in northern Saskatchewan who weren’t able to testify in Saskatoon in November according to Judy Hughes, president of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women’s Circle Corporation.
“They need to be heard. It’s part of their healing and part of their after-care,” said Hughes.
Ballantyne did testify at the national inquiry hearing in Saskatoon and said it was “cathartic.”
“I want to do this walk again to help others get closure by telling their story,” he said.
“I know what people are going through.”
Ballantyne said the first time he did a walk it also helped him deal with the 13-year sentence his sister’s killer got in a plea deal.
“It helped me a lot…I know what it means to lose someone and see the justice system fail them,” he said.
A request to speak to one of the inquiry’s commissioners was declined but spokesperson Shaylen Smith said in an email the “walk is an amazing demonstration of grassroots organizations and communities as they advocate to have the Truth Gathering Process continue for a longer duration to ensure all voices have an opportunity to be heard.”
She did not say whether the inquiry would return to Saskatchewan.
The $54-million inquiry was established by the Trudeau government in 2016. Smith said it has registered more than 1,200 witnesses so far.
It is charged with examining the factors that contribute to violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Ballantyne said he is open to Prince Albert hosting a full hearing or a session with trained statement gatherers, as has been added in other provinces. Eighty families and survivors participated in Saskatoon.
Hughes said her group has been working with others for months to obtain a commitment from the inquiry to come back, despite her organization having standing to intervene.
“We only received the retainer agreement yesterday,” she explained.
The inquiry is expected to stop in Moncton, N.B., Rankin Inlet, NU., Montreal and Vancouver in the coming weeks.