Several aboriginal leaders who are listed as having provided input during the creation of the Conservative government's action plan on violence against aboriginal women say they were not, in fact, consulted.
The discrepancies about the consultation process are surfacing just as native leaders prepare to sit down with federal cabinet ministers at an coming round table on Canada's more than 1,181 murdered and missing aboriginal women.
In response to a formal request from Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan regarding the action plan and the feedback that shaped it, Status of Women Canada provided a list of 12 organizations – and the specific individuals from those organizations – that it says were consulted. The department's response includes the time, date and location of the relevant meeting or phone call.
The Globe and Mail canvassed the organizations and found that leaders of three organizations – the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the National Association of Friendship Centres and the Manitoba Métis Federation – did not take issue with appearing on the list. However, several others, including the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), said they were not consulted on the action plan.
The plan, which allocates $25-million over five years, was announced in September and marks the government's response to recommendations made in 2014 by a parliamentary committee that heard testimony on the issue of violence against indigenous women. It includes funding for projects aimed at breaking intergenerational cycles of violence, additional assistance for victims and their families, and the development of community safety plans where indigenous women face high levels of crime.
The executive director of Pauktuutit, which represents Inuit women, said the department is correct in stating she and the group's president had a phone call last March with Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch, the lead minister on the issue of murdered and missing native women. However, she said the purpose of that conversation was to assist Ms. Leitch in planning a visit to Iqaluit to meet with victims' families.
"We were not consulted," said Tracy O'Hern, the executive director. "Of course, individuals and families have a great deal to say about what they experienced with police, the justice system et cetera. But they're not necessarily aware of the broader policy issues, nor should they be. It's the organizations that are."
Michèle Audette, the former NWAC president who recently stepped down to seek a Liberal nomination ahead of the fall federal election, is listed as one of two NWAC officials consulted at a meeting in February of last year – one month before Ms. Leitch's spokesman said the consultation process began.
"That was not a consultation," Ms. Audette said. The meeting, she said, was about the association's funding request for a particular project. NWAC executive director Claudette Dumont-Smith said the group was not consulted on the action plan.
The consultations list, which is formally known as a response to an Order Paper question, is incomplete since the identities of some of those consulted, specifically victims' families, were withheld for privacy reasons. Also, because the response was crafted by the department rather than the minister's office, it does not include communications initiated by Ms. Leitch and could contain inaccurate attendee information if organizations sent someone other than those initially thought to attend.
The government, which has in the past been accused of failing to seek input from indigenous stakeholders on issues such as education and resource development, is defending the consultation process. Ms. Leitch said in an e-mail she "met personally with victims' families and First Nations' groups – in almost all cases without staff or officials."
And her spokesman, Andrew McGrath, said it is "not accurate" to suggest any of the meetings were convened for a purpose other than soliciting views on how Ottawa should address violence against aboriginal women. "Our definition of consultation is any form of dialogue that can contribute to the development of good public policy," he said.
In her Order Paper question, Ms. Duncan had also asked "what submissions, proposals or recommendations were made by stakeholders during the consultation process." The Status of Women Canada response says such information "is not held by the Agency." Mr. McGrath said families made submissions on the basis of confidentiality, and that "if organizations wish to make their submissions public then they are free to do so."
Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal critic for Aboriginal Affairs, criticized the action plan as "a laundry list of existing programs." She also expressed concern that while the plan cites the need for all levels of government to work together, Status of Women Canada says provinces and territories "were not consulted specifically on the development of the plan."
Ms. Leitch said the provinces and territories "have been engaged on this file" over the past several years and that "their thoughts on this issue are quite well-known" – an apparent reference to their calls for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. The Conservative government has refused to launch such a probe, and has cited its action plan as evidence it is working to address the problem.
Of the 12 organizations on the list, leaders of two First Nations communities could not be reached for comment.
With a report from Gloria Galloway in Ottawa