Leaked document appears to give broad powers to MMIW national inquiry

Government calls for inquiry to end “ongoing national tragedy”.

Tina House, Dennis Ward and Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
There will be five commissioners sitting on a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) and they appear to have the power to run the inquiry as they see fit, according to the Terms of Reference (ToR) obtained by APTN National News.

The document, watermarked “sensitive and confidential,” appears to be a template for a final version. It does not name the five commissioners.

The ToR document also appears to address a pivotal question asked by MMIW family members and their advocacy groups: how much power will the commission have.

“Authorize the Commissioners to adopt any procedures that they consider expedient for the proper conduct of the inquiry,” the ToR states. But it doesn’t elaborate on how much power that is or whether the commissioners will have the power to compel people to testify.

The ToR does call for the inquiry to bring the “ongoing national tragedy” of MMIW to an end and examine the “systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada” and make recommendations.

That means looking at the “underlying social, economic, cultural, institutional and historical causes” that have led to more than 1,200 Indigenous women and girls to be murdered or go missing in the last 30 years.

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The inquiry is to look into the “institutional policies and practices” that may have caused violence against Indigenous women and girls but there’s no specific mention of the role police departments may have played in the overall MMIW issue, something families have called to be looked into.

The inquiry is to have “culturally sensitive” spiritual and psychological counselors available to people testifying.

“Provide an opportunity for individuals, families and community members to express and share their experiences and view, including on how to increase safety and prevent and eliminate violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada,” the document states.

There will be regional advisory boards, made up of families, loved ones and survivors, to advise on regional matters that fall within the scope of the inquiry, according to the document.

It also appears the inquiry will happen in various parts of Canada. It doesn’t state where, but the commissioners have the ability to rent spaces and get funding to provide remuneration and reimbursement to any one granted standing.

Families have been waiting for the inquiry to be announced, but it appears the government of Manitoba, led by Premier Brian Pallister, may have delayed the process over the issue of getting someone from the province named as a commissioner.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said last week all the provinces and territories needed to sign off on the ToR before the inquiry could be announced.

Bennett said they’re “very close” to announcing and APTN was told that could happen in early August.

MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson was among a number of First Nation leaders who met with province of Manitoba Tuesday asking them not to delay the inquiry. At that meeting APTN confirmed Manitoba provided a letter they sent Indigenous Affairs last week signing off on the ToR.

“We shouldn’t hold up the process if we don’t have a Manitoban appointed as one of the five commissioners,” said North Wilson.

North Wilson saw the ToR at Tuesday’s meeting and thought it lacked focus on police action or inaction. North Wilson says what she’s heard from almost every single family member she’s talked to is the issue of policing and the lack of respect families say they’ve received.

“There’s nothing specific in the terms of reference that deal with the role of police agencies across this country on this issue,” said North Wilson.

North Wilson said the ToR doesn’t go far enough “in scope to look at the effects indifferent or ineffective policing has had on the families of (MMIW).”

But the ToR doesn’t specially mention any organization or group by name.

It does say the inquiry can’t “jeopardize” any ongoing criminal investigation or proceeding, meaning police and court cases.

However, she later added: “I’m glad Manitoba is signing on. We owe it to families and friends of MMIW who’ve been carrying much of this burden thus far, in fighting for answers, solutions and prevention.”

The inquiry is also to take into account previous reports that apply to MMIW, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report released in 2015, The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples of 1996, the RCMP’s report into the number of MMIW over the last 30 years released in 2014 and the inquiry into how police agencies handled the the investigation of convicted serial killer Robert “Willie” Pickton.

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