Family consultations wrap up ahead of missing, murdered indigenous women inquiry
After speaking with 1,300 people with ties to missing and murdered aboriginal women, some central themes are beginning to emerge that will help guide the national inquiry, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Monday.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Bennett said that many of the families expressed a "lack of satisfaction" in the way the cases of their loved ones were handled by authorities.
Minister of the Status of Women Patty Hajdu said she also heard similar sentiments from many of the families she spoke with during the pre-inquiry consultations.
"Many of the themes were the same -- concerns about the investigation (and) the response," Hajdu said.
In preparing for a national inquiry into missing and murdered women, the Liberal government has been seeking input from the victims’ families and friends.
Since last December, Hajdu and Bennett have spent time crossing the country to speak with affected families, and seek their input on what they'd like to see addressed.
On Monday, the ministers shared some of the concerns that have been raised by affected families, but couldn't give a specific timeline on when the inquiry might start.
Instead, Bennett said the government hopes to have the inquiry up and running by the summer.
Bennett said many of the people she spoke with were not satisfied with how the case of their missing or murdered family member was being handled by authorities.
In some cases, the family believed their loved one was murdered, she said. However, some of those deaths were deemed as suicides, accidents, overdoses or deaths due to natural causes.
As a result, in many instances there would be no further police investigation, Bennett said. "In small communities to think that a murderer is out in their community made them feel very unsafe,” she said.
The minister said that it will be up to the commissioner, once chosen, to decide whether there are cold cases that need to be re-opened.
Hajdu said other central themes that emerged from the consultations include what types of people should lead the inquiry, what issues should be examined, what should be done about cold cases, and how should the needs of affected families be addressed right now.
The ministers said it also became apparent through the consultations that the inquiry will have to take into account the regional and cultural differences of the affected communities.
Bennett noted, for example, that the issues in Vancouver's Downtown East Side are vastly different than the issues in Iqaluit or other remote regions of Canada.
"A pan-Canadian approach, we are hearing, will not work," she said.
A 2014 RCMP report concluded that 1,017 aboriginal women had been murdered between 1980 and 2012, and that another 164 were considered missing. The Mounties added another 32 deaths and 11 disappearances in a 2015 update, but Bennett suggested Monday that the final tally is much bigger than 1,200.
Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said the cases that have been tallied by the RCMP so far are “just the tip of the iceberg.”
She told CTV’s Power Play Monday that some activists believe the number of missing and murdered indigenous women over the past two decades is closer to 4,000.
After being “stonewalled, ignored and silenced,” for 20 years, it was important that the victims’ families got a chance to speak to federal officials ahead of the inquiry, Lavell-Harvard said.
With files from The Canadian Press