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Editorials Globe editorial: Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women can still make a difference

The interim report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released on Wednesday. It's a frustrating read.

The inquiry has been plagued by delays and internal strife. One commissioner quit after 10 months, as did the executive director. It took the inquiry eight months to get around to taking testimony from the survivors of the hundreds of women and girls who have gone missing or been found dead since 1980 – a delay that so angered Indigenous communities that some called for the inquiry to be shut down and started over.

When it came time to release its interim report after almost 14 months, the inquiry was unable to include any findings from witnesses' testimony, because, it says, " the software we need to do in-depth analyses of the Community Hearing transcripts is not yet in place."

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These organizational failures are all the more startling given the fact that the federal government held a "pre-inquiry" from December 2015 to March 2016, with the specific goal of determining how to shape the national inquiry based on the input from the families of victims, Indigenous leaders and the provinces. The commission was given a head start, but managed to turn that into a disadvantage.

The chief commissioner, Marion Buller, now says she will likely have to ask the federal government for more time and more money – on top of the two years and $53.8 million already budgeted.

She placed some of the blame for the disorganization at the feet of the government, saying that federal rules on hiring and contracting slowed them down at every turn. It apparently took the commissioners eight months just to open their offices, and even then they weren't properly equipped with telephones and computers.

There have been plenty of commissions of inquiry in Canada that have been able to meet their deadlines under the same conditions. Why the MMIW inquiry has been hampered by routine bureaucratic and logistical delays so far remains unexplained.

The interim report had other frustrations, including the fact that all the inquiry has accomplished so far is to go over well-covered ground.

One part of the inquiry's mandate is to examine the findings of previous reports and inquiries, some done in Canada and some by international organizations, that have touched on Canada's shameful legacy of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Those include the 2010 Oppal inquiry into the disappearance of women in Vancouver and the police handling of the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton, Parliament's Report of the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women in 2014, and the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.

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The inquiry found that, between these three reports and five others identified in its interim report, more than "1,200 recommendations addressing the disproportionate rates of violence against Indigenous women in Canada" have been proffered to date.

And now here we are again, in the middle of another inquiry that will eventually add its own recommendations to the pile of existing solutions that, based on the evidence – not the least of which is the fact of yet another inquiry – have not done nearly enough to improve the lot of Indigenous women and girls.

What, in short, can this delayed and disorganized inquiry accomplish that the others haven't? Can it be different and useful?

Maybe. A chief aspect of its mandate is to commemorate the women and girls who were murdered or who disappeared. It will do this by listening to their families, by giving them a name and a face, and by holding their lives "sacred," as the report says.

This part of the inquiry's mandate is invaluable. It's the other part that is tricky: to do a forensic examination of past cases in order to find ways to protect the most vulnerable members of Canada's Indigenous communities from violence.

How do you link together a series of murders that occurred over many decades in difference provinces and under different circumstances?

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The only obvious connection is that the victims were all Indigenous women and girls, the vast majority of whom were marginalized by social conditions that more and more Canadians are aware of, and about which many are awash in guilt.

For 150 years, Canada's Indigenous peoples have been subjected to various levels of maltreatment, by omission and commission: from residential schools, to the Sixties Scoop, to the fact that many reserves continue to lack clean water, to poor schools, to cases of police brutality that continue to arise even in these allegedly enlightened times.

The result of these failed policies is that Indigenous Canadians live in poverty, drop out of school, end up in foster care, are incarcerated, and are perpetrators and victims of violent crime at rates far above their share of the general population.

The bottom line is that Canadians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, need to face up to these truths and think seriously about how to address them. As a society, we need to figure out how to give Indigenous peoples the opportunity to achieve as other Canadians, educationally, professionally and socially.

Indigenous Canadians are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, yet Indigenous Canadians, particularly on reserve, are being left behind economically and educationally.

The best way of reducing the number of Indigenous women and girls who suffer violence is to give them the advantages that make this country one of the safest and most prosperous in the world for non-Indigenous people.

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Can the inquiry get Canadians to move past their guilt and take concrete action? The commissioners can make all the recommendations they want, but those will gather dust just like their predecessors did, until our society says enough is enough.

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