The good intentions driving plans for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women must be matched with money to implement recommendations that come out of it, a group of long-time women’s advocates said before meeting with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.
And although victims’ families should be represented at the inquiry, the proceedings should also make room for groups that have worked with vulnerable women for years and are uniquely well-placed to address sexism, racism and violence that shadow so many victims’ lives, the advocates said.
Without such input, the inquiry could become a way for people to share their stories, but not much else, the group maintains.
“Right now, we are competing,” said Fay Blaney, a spokeswoman for the Women’s Memorial March Committee, a Vancouver-based group that has held an annual march since 1991. “There needs to be a process for families in this inquiry, but we feel we are being left on the outside.”
The advocates’ concerns – outlined in a news conference on Tuesday in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – highlight the expectations for the national inquiry, a key promise of the Trudeau government.
An RCMP report in 2014 found nearly 1,200 aboriginal women had gone missing or been murdered between 1980 and 2012. The report found aboriginal women accounted for 16 per cent of 20,313 homicides over the period, although they make up only 4.3 per cent of Canada’s population.
That report, along with years of advocacy by women’s groups and several violent incidents, including the murder of Tina Fontaine – whose body was pulled from Winnipeg’s Red River in August, 2014 – fuelled calls for a national inquiry. The former Conservative government did not support the idea.
With a Liberal government in power, a process to design an inquiry kicked off last month. Meetings are scheduled over the next few weeks, the government has launched an online survey, and interested parties are being encouraged to provide input.
Ms. Blaney and other spokeswomen met with Ms. Bennett on Tuesday afternoon and said they would put concerns about money and process on the table.
“We will be asking Ms. Bennett for a financial commitment to implement recommendations,” Ms. Blaney said.
After the meeting, Ms. Blaney said the group did not get a firm answer to its question about money to implement recommendations, but that Ms. Bennett said she would meet with them again to discuss the issue.
Several reports have focused on violence plaguing aboriginal women in their home communities and in broader society, but they have not brought much change, Ms. Blaney said.
Last year, researchers for a coalition of groups, including Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, reviewed 58 reports related to violence and discrimination against indigenous women and girls and concluded that only a handful of more than 700 recommendations had been fully implemented.
Those 58 reports included the 2012 Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which was written by former B.C. attorney-general Wally Oppal and focused primarily on the botched police investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on poor, vulnerable women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
In 2014, the B.C. government released a “final status update report” saying work was under way or complete on more than 75 per cent of the recommendations. Just last month, B.C. announced a $3-million plan to improve safety along the so-called Highway of Tears – the road that runs between Prince George and Prince Rupert. At least 18 women, many of whom were aboriginal, have been killed or gone missing along that highway and nearby routes since the 1970s.
In his 2012 report, Mr. Oppal urged the provincial government to “immediately” develop an enhanced public transit system along the route.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark said on Tuesday her province gleaned “a lot of information” from Mr. Oppal’s inquiry, including gaps in missing persons’ investigations.
She added she does not share the view of former prime minister Stephen Harper that violence is not sociological in nature and can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. “There are a lot of systemic barriers for aboriginal women living in poverty who are faced by all this, and we need to address those in a systematic way,” Ms. Clark told reporters after an unrelated event on Tuesday.
“We’re working with [the federal government] on it, and I hope we will learn even more as a result of the national inquiry, because women, vulnerable women, move across provincial borders and one province can’t do this alone.”
With a report from Mike HagerReport Typo/Error