Montreal has a new tip line for cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls – and as of Monday, the toll-free number will be visible all over the city of Montreal.
“You will see this [number] on buses, street columns, in metros, and on billboards on highways,” Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, explained.
“We find a lot of the times when someone goes missing in Montreal, that it is the Indigenous community who knows where these people are.”
The confidential, 24/7 toll-free phone line was jointly conceptualized by the Native Women’s Shelter and its ‘Iskweu’ project, which provides direct assistance to Indigenous women who are part of Montreal’s street community.
Using money from the City of Montreal, the 1-800 line is expected to remain open for the next six weeks – but the women present at Monday’s announcement hope it will run for much longer.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re still in the midst of a crisis of MMIWG2S – and it’s not slowing down, it’s actually getting worse,” said Jessica Quijano, coordinator of the Iskweu project.
“Since the [MMIWG] inquiry, the lack of political action and the lack of political will – not putting the recommendations in place – is having a direct impact on the lives of Indigenous people here in Montreal and across this country.”
Back in 2019, the Quebec witnesses who testified as part of the MMIWG national inquiry expressed “mistrust [for] the representatives of the institutions which are supposed to ensure their safety.
“Testimony after testimony showed that those who work in the justice system may stigmatize Indigenous women and families or treat them with contempt,” according to a passage in the MMIWG inquiry’s Quebec-specific report.
Quijano says 47 Indigenous women in the Montreal-area have gone missing since she began working with the Iskweu project in 2018.
Thanks in part to community networking – and on-the-ground legwork put in by frontline workers – 46 of those women were recovered safely.
“This is another example of how the communities have the solutions, We aren’t waiting for police or government to take action in order to find Indigenous women, trans and 2S people,” Quijano said.
“This is really a huge human rights issue and there’s absolutely no reason why it should continue.”
The person designated to monitor the line and pick up messages is Iskweu’s research coordinator, Janis Qavavauq-Bibeau.
She says the toll-free line could provide more than just hard leads on open cases.
“We hope to go to the government and show the actual [MMIWG] numbers,” she explained.
“I think the majority of the population of Quebec – they don’t actually know how big this problem is.”
If you have any information about a missing and/or murdered woman in the Montreal area, you can call 1-855-547-5938 to leave an anonymous voicemail.