author: alexa lawlor | staff writer
Investigation into previously unsolved cases
Indigenous women and girls have been disappearing for decades, often without a trace. Unfortunately, many of these women are being found dead, presumably murdered. The number of disappearances is at a shocking rate, although it becomes difficult to have an exact number, due to many cases of police not having enough evidence to suggest foul play, as well as many cases of missing women that go unreported. However, it is said to be somewhere around 4000 women.
The federal government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has launched an inquiry into the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, which began on Sept. 1. The inquiry is to last at least two years, at a budget of $53.86 million.
Five commissioners were appointed to conduct the inquiry: the Honorable Judge Marion Buller as Chief Commissioner, a provincial court judge in British Columbia, originally from the Mistawasis First Nation here in Saskatchewan; former president of Femmes autochtones du Québec (Quebec Native Women’s Association); Michèle Audette from Mani Utenam, Quebec; Qajaq Robinson, an associate of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP from Iqaluit, Nunavut; Marilyn Poitras, an assistant professor from Saskatoon; and the acting Deputy Director for the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Legal Services, Brian Eyolfson, from Couchiching First Nation, Ontario.
The mandate of the inquiry, as stated on the Government of Canada Indigenous and Northern Affairs website, is “to examine and report on the systemic causes behind the violence that Indigenous women and girls experience and their greater vulnerability to that violence.” In order to achieve this, the commission will be “looking for patterns and underlying factors that explain why higher levels of violence occur.”
The mandate discusses how “the underlying factors could be historical, social, economic, institutional or cultural,” and how “it will be up to the commission to decide what underlying factors it will decide to examine and report on.” The commission will also be looking at certain practices and policies of government institutions. Policing and child welfare are a few of the policies that the commission will be examining.
Alongside the inquiry’s $53.86 million budget, the Department of Justice Canada will provide $16.17 million dollars to “increase funding for culturally appropriate supports and for new Family Information Liaison Units (FILU) to be set up in provincial and territorial victims’ services offices to assist families and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.” The purpose of these units will be to aid in the search to find information from other services and agencies like the criminal justice system and social services.
The family members and loved ones of victims will be crucial within the inquiry, because the commission will rely on their testimonies to lead the direction in which the inquiry will head. Although the commission will rely on witness testimonies, they cannot order police to conduct an investigation or to reopen previous cases, even if they find misconduct within said cases. However, RCMP and police across the country have said that they are willing to cooperate with the inquiry, and will participate as much as possible.
As of right now, only general details of the inquiry are available, considering the process has just begun. Before Nov. 1, 2017, the first report of preliminary findings must be submitted, with the final report being submitted a year later, on Nov. 1, 2018.