Indigenous women says families, survivors ‘disrespected’ by inquiry

Native Women’s Association of Canada points to lack transparency, focus and certainty over extension

A prominent Aboriginal women’s group is giving more dismal grades to Canada’s national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, saying it lacks transparency, focus and certainty over whether it will get a badly needed extension on its most critical assignment.

In its latest report card on the troubled inquiry, the Native Women’s Association of Canada says chronic challenges are obscuring the needs of victims and survivors, with the unanswered question of its request for a two-year deadline extension adding to the uncertainty.

“Families felt the disorganization was disrespectful to them. Now we’re in the last stage, unless we get this extension, and it’s a rushed process,” said association president Francyne D. Joe, calling it “sad” that proper steps were not taken from the very beginning, when the inquiry was launched.

“When you hear anything about this national inquiry, it’s focusing on the turnover of staff rather than the stories [people] are sharing with the commissioners.”

READ MORE: Final leg of national missing women inquiry begins in B.C.

The association gave failing grades to five of the 15 areas it measured. Five other additional areas were classified as needing more action; only three got a pass. Two areas received no grades at all due to a lack of suitable information, the association said.

Still, that was an improvement over the last assessment, which failed the inquiry on 10 of the 15 reference points.

The latest report cited a persistent failure to communicate, calling it evidence that the inquiry has not acknowledged its part in the harm caused to families and survivors. The report, which spans the period between May 2017 to March of this year, was itself delayed because of the inquiry’s ongoing issues, including the appointment of a fifth new executive director.

Joe said when the inquiry was announced in August 2016, there was an assumption that commissioners would meet with families across the country when hearings began. “We had instead months where nothing was happening, phone calls not being taken, emails not being accepted.”

While there’s been plenty of inquiry communication taking place on social media, there are a lot of families without access to the internet who don’t understand the process, she added.

Joe said families told her they were given the wrong phone number to reach officials. She said others were told they would receive a follow-up call, only to end up waiting by the phone.

Communication has improved since the beginning of the inquiry, she acknowledged, but the focus lately has been on chronic staff turnover, as well as whether the government intends to grant the inquiry’s request for more time to meet its goals.

In March, the inquiry requested a two-year extension of its mandate, which would give commissioners until Dec. 31, 2020, to make recommendations and produce its findings. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett did not take questions before Tuesday’s cabinet meeting; calls to her department were not immediately returned.

“I do hope the federal government, that Minister Bennett, considers an extension so the families who haven’t been heard can share their stories, so the families promised an inquiry in their communities can still have those visits,” Joe said.

The deadline for the inquiry to release its final report is the end of this year, but Joe suggested the inquiry should “start doing things now.”

“Families don’t want a report to sit on the shelf, they want something to show other governments that we recognize issues around missing and murdered Indigenous women and this is how we’re going to stop this and protect our women.”

Janice Dickson , The Canadian Press

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