OPEN LETTER: Ensuring respectful relationships throughout National Inquiry on missing women

We wish to acknowledge the good intentions of your work and of the Government of Canada in committing to carry out the National Inquiry.

Dear Commissioners,

 

We first wish to acknowledge the good intentions of your work and of the Government of Canada in committing to carry out the National Inquiry.  We are here for support and are looking forward to meeting with you.

We also wish to provide you with our initial recommendations regarding how to ensure the National Inquiry is begun in a respectful way, and to support families and families of the heart, as well as organizations, in participating.

By way of background, the Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is comprised of family members and survivors, and more than 40 entities including Indigenous nations, Indigenous organizations, front-line service organizations, feminist and women’s organizations, legal advocates, faith-based groups and provincial organizations.  The Coalition initially came together in  2012 in response to the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in British Columbia, overseen by Commissioner Wally Oppal, and has grown since.  Our breadth of representation and our experience with the Oppal Commission of Inquiry make the Coalition well-positioned to respond to and inform the National Inquiry.  Attached, FYI, please find our submission regarding the National Inquiry design.

We are writing to seek a meeting with you regarding the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and to provide you with our recommendations regarding beginning the National Inquiry respectfully.

We advise that you carry out this work in as inclusive a way as possible.  We are aware that your office is in Vancouver and you held an initial meeting with some family members.  While we acknowledge your good intentions in doing so, we also wish to point out that not all family members knew about the meeting.  Given the ongoing trauma that family members are facing, we advise that you work to be as inclusive as possible of all family members.  We suggest that you put out an open, widely circulated call for any family members who wish to be involved to provide you with their contact information so that you have a comprehensive list.  We are pleased that you established a website this week where National Inquiry information is posted, that is publicly accessible.

We also suggest that you put out an open, widely circulated call for families of the heart and organizations that wish to be included in notices and updates about the National Inquiry.

Canada’s federal and provincial governments have a long history of ignoring the expertise of grassroots and community organizations such as those that the Coalition represents, despite the fact that the people involved in these organizations and communities have extensive lived and learned experience. For example, the 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI), which has been cited positively multiple times by Minister Anton, other government officials, and included in the final Terms of Reference as part of an adequate foundation for the National Inquiry, has repeatedly been acknowledged as a failed process by the Coalition and indigenous communities and organizations in British Columbia.  In fact, the Coalition was formed as a result of organizations and communities being shut out of the MWCI, despite the fact that the Coalition includes a significant proportion of the foremost experts on violence against indigenous women and girls in British Columbia.

The Coalition acknowledges that there are positive elements of the Inquiry, but we are concerned that the larger issue of Indigenous women going missing and being murdered in this country every single day will not be adequately addressed given some clear limitations of the Terms of Reference. We also acknowledge that it may be very difficult to change the contents of the Terms of Reference now, but we ask you to not only seriously take the following issues into consideration when conducting the Inquiry, but actively work to include, solve, and answer them.

1) There is no explicit provision to examine the role policing has had in causing or contributing to the violence against indigenous women. The RCMP and other police departments, such as the Vancouver Police Department, have an extremely damaged relationship with indigenous communities, and ignoring this reality is deeply problematic. Several Indigenous women and families in Canada have reported instances of racism, brutality, and negligence on the part of law enforcement.  The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also recently recommended that Canada ensure that the Inquiry clearly covers the investigation of the role of the RCMP, provincial police, municipal police and police complaints commissions across all Canadian jurisdictions.[1] While the Commissioners may be able to look into policing if they choose under the final Terms of Reference, we feel that this must be an explicit mandate.   The recent horrific decision by the Montreal Police investigatory committee to exonerate the Sûreté du Québec in 37 cases of sexual violence against Indigenous women leaves us disheartened at the prospects for justice for Indigenous women and girls.  Corruption in the form of internal investigations of policing authorities and the systematic disbelief of survivors’ experiences continues to shield police officers from prosecution for violence against Indigenous women and girls.

2) The final Terms of Reference, released August 3, 2016, places emphasis on the examination of systemic causes of violence, proper and inclusive accommodations for victims and witnesses, and healing for families and communities. The Coalition is pleased that the federal government has included these provisions, as the MWCI largely ignored these issues and alienated families.  That said, we are also concerned that without a provision specifically for the investigation of policing, the Inquiry will not lead to tangible change.

3) The final Terms of Reference state that if family members wish to contest old cases or report misconduct on the part of the police, the Commissioners are to direct them towards the “appropriate authorities”—presumably the same authorities who caused them this injustice in the first place. This does not, in any shape or form, provide families with proper or adequate redress, or any form of closure or justice.  Again, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recently reiterated this concern and recommended that Canada establish a mechanism for the independent review of cases where there are allegations of inadequate or partial police investigations.[2]

4) There must be an accountability framework in place to ensure that final recommendations from the Inquiry are fully resourced and implemented. During the course of our meeting with Minister Anton on August 3, 2016, she and her staff acknowledged that the provincial government cherry-picked which recommendations of the MWCI to implement (and which would be dismissed) without consulting with indigenous community members and organizations.  The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also expressed concern that Canada has not developed an action plan or coordinated mechanism to oversee the implementation of that Committee’s 2015 report, resulting in 37 recommendations that have not been implemented.[3] This cannot happen with the National Inquiry.

Finally, we urge the National Inquiry to interpret provincial legislative tools like BC’s Order in Council establishing a parallel provincial inquiry as broadly as possible so that they do not place additional and varying restrictions on the scope of the National Inquiry’s work from province to province, or inhibit the Inquiry’s ability to meaningfully investigate key subject areas.

 

Thank you for your time and attention.  We look forward to hearing from you in response to these concerns as the Inquiry commences its work.

 

Sincerely:

 

Aboriginal Front Door Society

Atira Women’s Resource Society

Battered Women’s Support Services

BC Assembly of First Nations

BC Civil Liberties Association

BC Federation of Labour

Butterflies in Spirit

Carrier Sekani Family Services

Carrier Sekani Tribal Council

Culture Saves Lives

Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre

DTES Power of Women

February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee

First United Church

First Nations Summit

Jenny Kwan, M.P., Vancouver East

Melanie Mark, MLA for Vancouver- Mount Pleasant

PACE Society

PHS Community Services Society

Poverty and Human Rights Centre

RainCity Housing and Support Society

Spirit of the Children Society

Union of BC Indian Chiefs

Union Gospel Mission

Vancouver Council of Women

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre

West Coast LEAF

WISH Drop-in Centre Society

Yale First Nation