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Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government is doing everything in its power to give the inquiry the information it needs. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government is doing everything in its power to give the inquiry the information it needs. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Indigenous women’s inquiry, Ottawa locked in data dispute Add to ...

The federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs says her government has provided the names of hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women to the inquiry that is examining the tragedy, even though the inquiry has fewer than 90 victims’ families listed in its database.

But a spokeswoman for the inquiry says the information that was turned over by the government did not include contact information for the families or anything that would be useful in compiling a list of those who want to tell their stories.

The dispute comes as family members complain about a lack of information flowing from the inquiry, which was called after years of demands from Indigenous organizations and those who have lost mothers, sisters and daughters.

With testimony from families expected to begin in May, there is some urgency to ensuring that all who wish to appear before the commissioners are registered.

Christa Big Canoe, an inquiry lawyer, said last week that the government collected the names of family members during a preinquiry phase, but it has refused to turn those names over to the inquiry citing privacy constraints. As a result, said Ms. Big Canoe, the inquiry has just 90 names on file and some of the families who stepped forward during the preinquiry may mistakenly believe they are on the inquiry’s list when they are not.

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Under questioning from the New Democrats on Monday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government is “absolutely not blocking anything,” and is doing everything in its power to give the inquiry the information it needs.

“We have provided multiple resources to the commission including a database that includes hundreds of names,” Dr. Bennett told the House of Commons.

But Sue Montgomery, an inquiry spokeswoman, said the information turned over by the Indigenous Affairs department was not entirely helpful.

“We got names of people who participated in the pre-inquiry but no contact information, and in some cases without knowing if they were family members, survivors or just someone interested in the subject,” Ms. Montgomery said in an e-mail.

A government spokesman said last week that, given the number of family members who participated in the preinquiry under the condition that they remain anonymous, privacy rules prevent the transfer of personal information to the inquiry.

But some family members are frustrated.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, whose sister Dawn Anderson died under mysterious circumstances in 2011 and who participated in the preinquiry phase, said she believed her contact information had been given by the government to the the inquiry.

“With the preinquiry engagement session, there was the impression given that there would be continuous information for any family members or anybody who participated,” said Ms. Anderson-Pyrz.

“Now they’re saying that they can’t use that database that was created during the preinquiry engagement session,” she said.

“Families go through enough without having to continuously resubmit their information.”

A 2014 report by the RCMP identified nearly 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who were slain in recent decades and some critics suggest that the Mounties’ list is far from complete.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) says its list of victims runs into the thousands. NWAC has not given the inquiry those names because the inquiry has not asked for them, a spokeswoman for the association said Monday.

But Ms. Big Canoe says the inquiry cannot use the lists created by other organizations because they don’t contain contact names of family members, and because the inquiry wants those who wish to testify to initiate contact, rather than feeling pressured into telling their stories.

Sheila North Wilson, the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which advocates for 30 First Nations in northern Manitoba, said there has been a general lack of communication flowing from the inquiry to the victims’ families.

“It is concerning,” said Ms. North Wilson, “because families have been waiting for this for a long time, they are the ones that fought for it, and they deserve a lot more information and a simple process to get them going.”

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