After more than a decade of lobbying by Indigenous women’s groups across Canada, the federal government announced Wednesday the details for a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The federal government has appointed five commissioners to lead the public inquiry, which will begin its work on September 1. Marion Buller, the first female First Nations judge in British Columbia, will serve as the chief commissioner for the inquiry.
The other four commissioners include:
- Michele Audette, former president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association
- Qajaq Robinson, law associate with Borden Ladner Gervais LLP and vice-president of Tungasuvvingat Inuit
- Marilyn Poitras, assistant law professor at the University of Saskatchewan
- Brian Eyolfson, acting deputy director for the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Legal Services
The federal government also announced that $16.17-million will be provided to create family information liaison units in each province as well as increase victims services funding to provide what it called “culturally appropriate services” to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and survivors of violence.
The National Inquiry has been given a budget of $53.86 million to hold the inquiry, which will conclude in December 2018.
“It’s about time,” Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, an associate professor of Indigenous Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said in reaction to the federal government’s announcement.
“I’m really glad they’ve done this,” she added.
According to the inquiry’s terms of reference, the commissioners have a mandate to examine and report on the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls. They will also be responsible for examining and reporting on the policies and practices of government institutions such as policing, child welfare and coroners.
The commissioners have also been directed to make recommendations on ways to remove systemic causes of violence and increase safety of Indigenous women and girls and ways to honour those who are still missing or have been murdered.
No Atlantic Canada representation among appointed commissioners
Hart Perley, who works with the Indigenous Women’s Association of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq Territories in New Brunswick, said she is disappointed that none of the commissioners appointed are not from Atlantic Canada.
“Just because there are only a few number (of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls) here in the Atlantic, they’re not willing to put a commissioner or get a commissioner from this area?” Perley said Wednesday.
Doyle-Bedwell, who is also a member of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said she was surprised that none of the commissioners appointed to the public inquiry were from Atlantic Canada.
“We have missing and murdered women here. We have unsolved murders here,” Doyle-Bedwell said.
“Now granted, it may not be at the same level as (British Columbia) or Alberta or Saskatchewan but you know, we’re still here and we don’t want to be ignored,” she said.
According to a database created by Native Women’s Association of Canada, there are approximately 1,180 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country. Of that total number, 36 of those women and girls are from Atlantic Canada.
Doyle-Bedwell said she fears that the families of those 36 missing and murdered women and girls may go unheard due to the lack of representation from the Atlantic region.
As for the $16-million being provided to the provinces to create a family liaison unit within their victim services programs, Doyle-Bedwell said the amount falls short of what is needed to help families and survivors.
“We suffer extreme rates of violence. We have the higest rates of violence of any group,” Doyle-Bedwell said.
“There’s a lot of healing that has to go on,” she said.