APTN National News
OTTAWA – The road to a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women began Tuesday when the Trudeau government provided some details of the first phase of consultation that includes meeting with local families Friday.
That private meeting will happen at a downtown Ottawa hotel as reported by APTN National News Monday.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu made the announcement inside Centre Block on Parliament Hill.
“Today’s announcement has been a long time coming,” said Bennett. “Over the last decade many, many voices have been heard asking for a national inquiry … this is a priority for me, my colleagues and the federal government.”
The former Conservative government, under Stephen Harper, refused to call an inquiry saying they didn’t need another report. After Harper’s defeat the Conservative opposition surprised many by announcing recently they support an inquiry.
“We’re very pleased to have the leader of the Opposition on side now,” said Bennett.
Tuesday’s announcement follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise of an inquiry into the nearly 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women over the last three decades.
The three ministers will hear from families across the country then meet with Aboriginal organizations, leaders and provinces to hear what they want the inquiry to look like.
“We are already getting lot’s of advice. We have committed to listening to families first,” said Bennett.
Starting with families is a sign of respect said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum.
“The families must be comfortable with the inquiry as it unfolds and be able to participate at every step along the way,” said Achneepineskum in a statement. “We acknowledge their grief and know that this will be a difficult and painful process. We are prepared to participle in a process where the families are well supported, the appropriate resources are in place and the right people are at the table.”
Following those meetings, Bennett, Wilson-Raybould and Hajdu will sit down and develop the scope of the inquiry that they hope to announce next spring.
The second phase is the actual inquiry.
“No inquiry can undo what happened, nor can it restore what was lost, but it can help us find a way forward,” said Wilson-Raybould.
Families have already told the ministers that they hope the inquiry stops another family from feeling the pain they do.
The Trudeau government’s approach to the issue is night and day compared to Harper’s. During his time in office almost 300 Indigenous women were found murdered, died under suspicious circumstances or went missing. Funding to the Native Women’s Association of Canada was also slashed year after year, as reported by APTN in September in this story.
Canadians can also play a role in the first phase of the inquiry, said Bennett.
“There will be an online component to this process. This will include a website that includes background information that can help all Canadians better understand this issue. It will also include an online survey and discussion guide available in the coming weeks,” said Bennett. “The discussion guide will help focus meetings by highlighting important elements and key questions about the inquiry’s design. The online survey echoes three – these questions and will provide access to all concerned Canadians.”
Hajdu said Indigenous women represent four percent of the female population and yet 16 per cent of all murdered women in Canada.
“Over the years, many studies have attempted to explain these disparities,” she said. “Some have linked this violence to the long-term impacts of racism, sexism, colonialism and the devastating impacts of residential schools on Indigenous men, women and communities.”
She said a range of socioeconomic and health challenges such as poverty, unemployment, lack of transportation, mental health and substance use issues also contribute.
“Indigenous women continue to live in poorer socioeconomic conditions than non-Indigenous women, which means that they’re at a heightened risk of experiencing violence,” said Hajdu. “That’s why family members and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will be at the centre of this process. National Aboriginal organizations, provinces and territories and Indigenous women’s organizations, along with representatives from a range of frontline service workers will also be essential voices. We will make sure that they can be heard.”