MMIWG advocates ‘cautiously optimistic’ after government’s ombudsperson announcement

Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls’ advocates say they are cautiously optimistic after Jennifer Rattray was appointed as a special advisor to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller on Tuesday.

The former commissioner of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women Marion Buller, has been highly critical of the Trudeau government for moving too slowly on the calls for justice in the past but she said Rattray is the right person to get things moving forward.

“When I read the report about the new ministerial special representative, I was, ‘Well, we’re going to study in order to have a study,’ she said. ‘Or, we’ll have a committee in order to have a committee.’ But when I saw it was Jennifer Moore Rattray I was very relieved because she’s going to get the job done.

“She’s a fabulous administrator, forward-looking, she’ll get the work done.”

Rattray, the former executive director of the MMIWG inquiry, will be soliciting feedback from survivors, families and Indigenous communities as part of the process that will eventually see an ombudsperson named.

This ombudsperson will oversee government progress on the 231 calls for justice named in the inquiry’s 2019 final report.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has also criticized the government for moving too slowly –  but president Carol McBride said NWAC was part of a productive MMIWG roundtable with Crown-Indigenous Relations and other partners on Tuesday and sees Rattray’s appointment as a fresh start.

“We’ll hopefully be on track now and I’m looking forward to this person (ombudsperson) being named and yes I think things will progress a lot better and we’ll have someone to oversee the progress so I’m really, really looking forward to this,” she said.

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Also, at a press conference on Tuesday, Miller said he understands the impatience of advocates wanting to see the government moving more quickly on appointing an ombudsperson but the decision must be made in the right way.

“I can’t single-handedly and should not single-handedly in one fell-swoop appoint an ombudsperson without the proper consultation with survivors’ groups and families,” he said. “I think regardless of who that person would be, they would be hamstrung from the get go because the proper consultation had not been done.”

Aside from the actual appointment, Buller said the new ombudsperson and Indigenous human rights tribunal – both of which are included in the calls for justice – must have the necessary powers to hold the government to account.

“The ombudsperson and the tribunal both have to have very specific and independent powers. For example, the ombudsperson and tribunal will have to have the ability to compel the production of documents and compel the production of witnesses. In other words, the ability to issue subpoenas and put people under oath.”

For her part, McBride said NWAC will continue to watch the government closely.

“We’ll keep a very close eye on what’s going on and if I find that they are not progressing the way that they should, they will hear from NWAC.”

The government has not set a timeline for when the ombudsperson will be in place.

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