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Eight things to know about the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

On August 3, 2016, the government of Canada announced the terms of reference and commissioners who will lead the country’s independent inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The inquiry, which officially begins on September 1, 2016 and ends on December 31, 2018, is tasked with uncovering the causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada and with providing concrete solutions to the problem.

Here’s what you should know as the government moves forward with the long-awaited inquiry:

1. The five commissioners responsible for carrying out the inquiry are:

  • Chief commissioner Marion Buller – Provincial Court Judge in British Columbia
  • Michèle Audette – Former President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada
  • Qajaq Robinson – Associate, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
  • Marilyn Poitras – Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan
  • Brian Eyolfson – Acting Deputy Director, Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Legal Services

To learn more about the commissioners, see our piece outlining their experiences and qualifications.

2. The government initially allocated $40 million over two years to the inquiry’s undertaking, but the total announced funding was increased to $53.8 million over two years.

3. Family information liaison units will be created in each province and territory. The government will also increase funding for culturally appropriate victims’ services in each province. $16.17 million will be dedicated to these services over a four year timeframe.

4. The inquiry will examine how Canada’s institutions contribute to systemic racism, sexism and misogyny that lead to and perpetuate violence against Indigenous women and girls. The inquiry will question policing practices, child welfare services, government and coroner’s offices, the Indian Act and other institutions and their impact on Indigenous women and girls.

5. The inquiry has the ability to examine both federal and provincial laws and institutions that contribute to systemic injustices.

6. The inquiry was recommended as Call to Action 41 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings.

7. The inquiry has the ability to call witnesses to give evidence and will require anyone to produce documents requested by commissioners, but cannot find criminal wrongdoing. The inquiry’s recommendations after two years of work will be non-binding.

8. Concerns about the inquiry include the following:

  • Amnesty International is concerned that the inquiry will not thoroughly examine the practices of policing as a key issue leading to violence against Indigenous women and girls.
  • Culturally appropriate counselling will be offered during family members’ appearances before the commission, but not before or after their appearances. This, according to a press release from the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), is concerning because the retelling of traumatic stories can trigger further trauma. The organization is requesting that counselling be available both before and after the inquiry to anyone presenting to the commission.
  • The government has been criticized for a lack of Inuit representation among its appointed commissioners.
  • NWAC is also concerned about the lack of opportunities for families to pursue or reopen cases through the justice system.
  • As of the launch of the inquiry, Manitoba had still not passed an order in council indicating the province’s full cooperation with the inquiry.

The RCMP estimates there have been approximately 1,200 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada between 1980 and 2012. This number may be even higher due to cases where women were not identified as Indigenous during the investigation, or where their disappearances were not reported to police. NWAC also has a database of missing and murdered Indigenous women, some of which overlaps with the RCMP’s data.

Indigenous women make up only three per cent of Canada’s population, but account for 16 per cent of all female homicides.

The inquiry’s temporary website can be found here, and will soon move to an independent website with appropriate contact information for the inquiry and commissioners.

Photo source: www.ammsa.com

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