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Canada Five things about the inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls

The national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada released its final report in Ottawa. Here are five things you should know about it.

The history

The Native Women’s Association of Canada and Amnesty International began a research project on “Stolen Sisters” in 2002 to try to put figures and faces to the many Indigenous women and girls who were missing or had been murdered. Their research was the start of nearly two decades of studies and reports that uncovered first hundreds, then more than 1,200, names of Indigenous women who were known to have been killed or who had simply disappeared. The final report Monday said quantifying the full number is not possible.

The research eventually led to numerous calls for a national inquiry on the matter, including from the United Nations in 2014 and the Manitoba government following the high-profile murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine in 2014. In 2015 an inquiry was one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that examined the legacy of residential schools.

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The former Conservative government repeatedly rejected the requests, arguing the issue had been well studied and documented. The Liberals and NDP ran in 2015 on promises to hold an inquiry if elected and the Liberals followed through very quickly after the 2015 election.

The controversy

On Dec. 8, 2015 the Liberals launched a pre-inquiry consultation to establish the parameters in discussion with Indigenous leaders and communities. The inquiry itself was launched in August 2016, but concerns arose quickly about the terms of reference, a lack of Inuit representation, and slow progress. The inquiry was fraught with concerns that families affected by violence were being mistreated and over the resignations of one commissioner and multiple staff members.

Complaints about the process, who was included and excluded and feelings that the inquiry was limited in its scope continued right up until the report’s release, with Metis organizations accusing the commission of leaving Metis people out and promising their own report.

The numbers

There were 1,273 days from the time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the launch of the pre-inquiry consultation until the final report was delivered. After the pre-inquiry consultation, the official inquiry was given a two-year mandate and a $40-million budget.

In 2018, the commissioners made an official request for more time and money, and ultimately were granted a six-month extension and another $52 million, for a final anticipated budget of $92 million.

The inquiry held 15 community hearings and three statement-gathering events between May 2017 and April 2018. The commissioners heard direct testimony from nearly 1,500 people, including 468 family members and survivors. Another 800 people participated through other means such as written submissions. The final report is 1,200 pages long and makes 231 recommendations, listed as “calls for justice.”

The word ‘genocide’

The commissioners concluded that the thousands of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or disappeared in Canada are part of a genocide against Indigenous Peoples, through actions and inaction by governments that are rooted in colonialism. They included a full separate 46-page report on genocide to explain how they reached what chief commissioner Marion Buller called an “inescapable conclusion.”

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Neither Trudeau nor Conservative Indigenous-affairs critic Cathy McLeod would go as far as to call the problem a genocide Monday but NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he agrees with the use of the word.

What’s next

Trudeau pledged to review the report in detail and come up with a national action plan to implement the recommendations.

Among the calls from the report are a hope that Canadians will read it, learn about Indigenous history and take steps to confront racism and other forms of discrimination when they see it. The commissioners say a complete shift in how Canadians view and treat Indigenous people is needed, as are changes in policing and the justice system. There were also a host of calls to address the social problems behind some of the risks Indigenous women face, including better access to housing and food, funding for shelters for women who are homeless, and transit options for women in remote and rural communities.

The chief commissioner of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls told survivors and families on Monday they have started to rewrite Canadian history. The Canadian Press
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