Some families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and their advocates have applied for joint standing at the national inquiry that is exploring the reasons for the violence, saying they expected to have been asked to participate but that this has not happened.
The group says in a 12-page request filed Monday with the inquiry's commissioners that they have a "substantial and direct interest" in the inquiry and, even though they were told at the outset they did not need to have standing, they now realize the benefits of having a lawyer to represent them collectively at all its phases.
The request does not name the 18 families involved, or their missing or murdered loved ones. It explains that many of the participants do not want their information provided to the media. But, it says, those names will be provided to the commissioners upon request and many – but not all – were part of a coalition that called unsuccessfully earlier this year for the commission to be restarted as it became bogged down with delays and communications problems.
"Many of the victims have been identified yet none of the victims' families were approached by the inquiry to take meaningful part in its process. Many of the families expected to be contacted by the inquiry but were not," says the application.
The group wishes to be represented by a lawyer and to have "equal footing with all other legal players and parties with standing to contribute to the broader societal issues and systemic change that the inquiry seeks to make and which the families with to see done."
Specifically, the application says standing will allow the families to share information with the commission in an organized fashion, identify systemic issues that have arisen from their experiences, provide an important perspective that would otherwise be missing from the inquiry and propose recommendations to prevent the loss of more lives.
The deadline to apply for standing at the inquiry has passed but the group asks the commissioners to make an exception. They say they did not realize previously that if they applied for standing they could contribute to all aspects of the inquiry or apply for funding to cover the costs.
"The problem with the inquiry is that they are so poor in their communications that a lot of us who want to be part of it are just not getting communicated with," said Michelle Robinson, one of the 18 parties to the application whose family has experienced violence and who advocates on behalf of those who have lost loved ones.
"There are major issues and gaps with the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women," said Ms. Robinson.
The $54-million inquiry, which has already spent about a third of its budget, has been criticized for failing to communicate adequately with families of missing and murdered women, the public and the media.
There have been a number of departures among senior inquiry staff, and one of the five commissioners resigned earlier this year. Last week, three staff members were fired. One of them said she was let go after recommending changes and blamed a "sick internal culture."
In an interim report released earlier this month, the commissioners said their work has been hampered by the bureaucratic processes of the federal government. They said they will need more time and money to do the job properly and said they will be specific about those requests in the future.
But a coalition of organizations that has been granted standing at the inquiry said in a statement on Monday that the government should not provide more resources to the commissioners or give them more time until they have completed a detailed work plan that includes dates for hearing from expert witnesses on human rights.
"We have serious concerns about the direction of the inquiry," Pamela Palmater, a lawyer, university professor and activist who is part of that coalition, said in the statement.
"The inquiry needs both a work plan and a clarification of goals," said Dr. Palmater, "that assures families, groups with standing and the Canadian public that the inquiry has the capacity to do the serious work necessary to engage with governments and make change."