Former head of national MMIWG inquiry says government silent on Calls to Justice plan

Federal action plan won’t be released on June 3 anniversary: NWAC

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepts the final report of the mmiwg inquiry in 2019. APTN file

June 3 marks one year since Canada’s system of colonization was labelled a “genocide” against Indigenous women and girls by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

Yet after the initial shock, a troubling silence seemed to settle over the bombshell final report of 2019.

“I’ve had people reach out to me saying, ‘Have you heard anything, has there been any consultation?’” said Marion Buller, the inquiry’s former chief commissioner.

“There really isn’t much to talk about because they haven’t done much.”

Buller and others close to the inquiry admit they’re disappointed with what appears to be a lack of action on their 231 Calls to Justice.

Marion Buller was one of four commissioners of the National Inquiry into violence against missing and murdered Indigenous women. APTN file

Their concern is ramping up as the anniversary date approaches and, along with it, expectations of a “national action plan” promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It’s really concerning for me as a family member and an advocate that we’ve heard nothing,” Manitoba’s Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said Thursday.

Trudeau initiated the inquiry, which cost $53.8 million, and upon its conclusion said the federal government would do a “thorough review” of the MMIWG report and “develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGTBQ and two-spirited people.”

The inquiry travelled coast to coast to coast over two years to hear from more than 1,400 witnesses, and put colonial systems of government, police and child welfare  on the hot seat.

Poor communication

At the same time, it was plagued by delays, staff turnover and complaints from families about disorganization and poor communication.

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, has been working on a national action plan, spokesperson Emily Williams said earlier this week.

But she wouldn’t confirm whether the plan would be released on June 3.

“Minister Bennett continues to engage with her provincial and territorial colleagues and Indigenous partners directly. The work across the country continues, despite the circumstances presented by COVID-19,” Williams in an email to APTN News.

Bennett has been hearing from Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Femmes Autochtones du Quebec, 2 Spirits in Motion Foundation and the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, Williams added.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett (centre) and Maryam Monsef (right). APTN file

In fact, Bennett and Maryam Monsef, the federal minister for gender equality, met remotely Friday with officials in Yukon, who have developed their own action plan.

It was the same day Anderson-Pyrz and Sandra Delaronde, who co-chair the MMIWG Coalition in Manitoba, were given five minutes to share their insight remotely with the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs in Ottawa. Something they feel wasn’t enough given their extensive experience.

“(Manitoba has) been referred to as ‘Ground Zero’ by (Minister) Bennett for MMIWG. We’ve also been very active for a very long time on the file,” noted Anderson-Pyrz.

“Individuals have approached us for input and advice, and we’ve heard nothing from the federal government regarding the national action plan.”

Lorraine Whitman, president of NWAC, also panned Ottawa.

“I haven’t seen any movement at all,” she told APTN Wednesday. “…We represent our grassroots people and they want to see action. They’re tired of hearing the talk but not walking the walk.”

Two reasons

Buller, like Anderson-Pyrz, said she was speaking out in advance of the plan’s anticipated release next month for two reasons: to remind government of its promise and take note of the speedy funding it distributed for COVID-19-related needs.

“I’m not being critical,” she said. “The government mobilized very quickly to top up spending for community-based (women’s) shelters. We’ve seen it can be done and (they) can do it.”

The action plan has to be about more than dollars and cents, added Buller.

“It’s a paradigm shift from giving money to sharing power,” she said, noting the inquiry analyzed society’s structures and recommended ways to make it more inclusive.

“There needs to be a partnership at all levels for Indigenous women and girls and two-spirited and gender diverse people,” she said.

“We built the foundation – that is what we were asked to do.”

Whitman said NWAC “has faith” the government can make the needed changes “if it works together with us.”

But in a release Friday she said she was “disappointed to learn that the plan will not be released on June 3, the first anniversary of the release of the Inquiry report, and is frustrated that so little had been done over the past 12 months.”

She called on Bennett to release the plan before the end of June.

Anderson-Pyrz agreed the epidemic of violence against Indigenous females should be more of a priority.

“I really feel for families and survivors who have been waiting almost a year and have heard nothing,” she told APTN.

“It really makes them wonder, ‘Was my story not important or the recommendations I shared not important?’”

 

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.