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Opinion Why Manitoba chiefs don’t support an extension of the missing and murdered inquiry

Arlen Dumas is grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs can no longer support the request of the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for a two-year extension of its mandate.

In early March, the four remaining inquiry commissioners asked Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett for a 24-month extension and additional funding of up to $50-million. At the time, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) supported the request for an extension with some simple and easy conditions.

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In addition to ensuring that families and survivors are provided opportunities to be heard, Canada should respond to the recommendations of the national inquiry’s interim report. It should also review the current commissioners; create a Manitoba sub-commission that would feed into the national inquiry process; and provide more details on the next steps in the process: Part 2 (institutional hearings) and Part 3 (expert hearings).

The AMC has always maintained that the number one priority of the inquiry must be for families and survivors to be heard in Part 1 of its truth gathering process through community hearings. We continue to hear from families and survivors who have not yet participated in the inquiry process that they want to be heard.

Sadly, it appears that the commissioners have left the families and survivors behind to focus on Parts 2 and 3 of their process. The inquiry has not scheduled any more community hearings to listen to families and survivors although the inquiry invited families and survivors to continue to register until April 20. In the commissioners’ letter to Ms. Bennett requesting an extension and additional funding, they use the fact that the inquiry has not planned to share the truths and listen to 630 families and survivors who have already registered but rather cite it as a reason to support their extension request.

What is the plan for the families and survivors who have already registered but have not been invited to participate in the community hearings? What will happen to those who do not register by April 20?

The commissioners should prioritize listening to families and survivors and keep Part 1 open for the rest of its original mandate until it begins to draft its final report.

As families and survivors are cut from Part 1 of the process, the inquiry staff has failed to equip the AMC and others with standing to participate in Parts 2 and 3. The commissioners and their staff have provided limited information to effectively participate.

The commissioners will hold four hearings this year from the end of April to the beginning of June dealing with human rights, government services, racism, and policing practices.

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They have not provided any information to parties that would meaningfully facilitate participation in the process they want to extend. We know from their last hearing in Winnipeg and the scheduled time that the AMC will only have six minutes for cross examination.

The commission staff has not told us what witnesses they intend to call, nor disclosed any of the documents they intend to rely upon.

As concerning, the Canadian government has not even bothered to respond to or implement the recommendations from the commissioners’ interim report issued last November. The government has also not bothered to include the creation of a Manitoba regional commission − a place Ms. Bennett herself said was “ground zero” for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

First Nations and Canadians cannot wait another two years.

The most reasonable response now to the commissioners’ extension request is to simply have them complete their existing mandate in a manner that continues to hear truths from families and survivors.

As with any inquiry report, the real commitment and action is based in the political will of the receiving governments of the report.

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Accordingly, instead of spending more time and money on the inquiry process, Canada should immediately invest at least $50-million to address the underlying issues that lead to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

That, along with Canada and the provinces accepting the national inquiry’s final report and committing to carry out its recommendations, will go much further to keep Indigenous women safe and alive.

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