With files from Simon Little
The Federal Government says the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will cost about $13.8 million more than previously budgeted.
At an announcement Wednesday morning, officials said that after coast-to-coast consultation, the government says it will cost at least $53 million to conduct.
Forty million dollars had originally been earmarked for the study.
There will also be five commissioners involved:
- Marion Buller – Chief Commissioner. She is B.C.’s first female First Nations judge.
- Michele Audette – former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada
- Qajaq Robinson – Nunavut lawyer; practices civil litigation, focus on Aboriginal law
- Marilyn Poitras – Professor at the University of Saskatchewan; focus on indigenous law
- Brian Eyolfson – First Nations lawyer
The five commissioners will have the power to summon witnesses and compel testimony.
Concerns ahead of the announcement
But on the eve of the formal launch, some advocates are sharing their worries over the terms of the inquiry.
Fay Blaney with the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network says reports that the inquiry’s terms of reference won’t formally include police conduct are troubling.
“It is insulting. I think they really need to include some cases that have already been closed. Things that are deemed to be accidental death or suicide. Women in the community know that that’s not the case.”
Also acting as the organizer with Vancouver’s annual march for the women, Blaney is expressing both hope and concern.
“I really honour those families that are standing up.”
Members of the Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are also preparing to respond publicly immediately following the announcement.
New government making MMIW a priority
With the introduction of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister and a Liberal government taking office in October 2015, an announcement came not long after, in December, calling for an investigation on the national level.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper had rejected calls for a formal federal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, saying the investigation wasn’t high on the Conservative government’s radar.
Ernie Crey, elected chief of the Cheam first nation, spoke to CKNW host Drex immediately following the December announcement that a federal inquiry would in fact take place. Crey’s sister Dawn has been missing for nearly 16 years.
He said at the time that he doesn’t expect the investigation to happen quickly, which is a positive thing in his eyes. He said that when B.C. held it’s own inquiry, it failed to consult with families and affected communities first.
“The manner in which the government announced it and carried it forward alienated a lot of aboriginal people as an organization. The government we have in Ottawa now they’re taking it step by step.”
A Canada-wide inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women has been a topic of discussion for years, and one of contention among others who were left unsatisfied by the results of B.C.’s own inquiry which was completed in 2012.
B.C.’s own inquiry fell short of expectations
The BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry conducted a months long investigation, led by the Honourable Wally Oppal, and examined the conduct of police investigations of women reported missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002. This included victims of notorious Vancouver serial killer Robert Pickton.
Government set aside $10 million to complete the provincial inquiry.
Resulting from the investigation was a 1,400 page report detailing 63 major recommendations.The conclusion from Oppal was that failed police investigations and mistreatment of indigenous women by police, were largely to blame.
Recommendations from the 2012 report included:
- Enhancing public transit to northern B.C. communities, namely along Highway 16, also referred to as the Highway of Tears.
- A compensation fund for the children of missing women.
- A healing fund for the families of missing women.
- Striking an independent expert committee to develop a model and implementation plan for a new police force.
- Officers should be required to undergo mandatory and continuous training regarding vulnerable community members.
- Make prevention of violence against aboriginal women a genuine priority.
- Establish more police accountability to communities.
- Improve police missing person policies and practices.
The RCMP also released a report in 2014 after the Commissioner of the RCMP initiated a study of reported incidents of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across all police jurisdictions.
Criticism: did enough change come as a result of B.C.’s investigation?
Lorelei Williams, a facilitator of healing at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre, said in 2015 that the B.C. government botched its response to the initial inquiry.
“I have gone across the country to speak about this issue, I even went to New York to speak about it. People ask me ‘Why are you here?’ and I tell them why, and they just can’t believe how much of an issue this is in our country.”
In a 2015 statement, Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said B.C. has made “significant changes” coming out of the inquiry.
She says the government has compensated the children of victims, helped improve cell coverage by 50 per cent along Highway 16, and brought in new tools for police to find missing people.
In December 2014, the province issued a 24-page status report on actions taken by the government in response to the inquiry’s recommendation.