This morning federal Ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould (Department of Justice), Carolyn Bennett (Indigenous and Northern Affairs) and Patricia Hajdu (Status of Women) announced the start of the first phase of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The announcement was opened by Claudette Commanda, an elder of the Algonquin Nation and University of Ottawa professor who has dedicated her life to promoting indigenous peoples. Ms. Commanda called on everyone to approach this difficult task with an open mind, open heart and good spirit.
The announcement was short on detail, however this is consistent with the government’s promise that the form of the inquiry would be flexible and responsive to input from the families and communities of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The inquiry will proceed in two phases. In Phase 1 the Ministers will consult with families, communities, national Aboriginal organizations, frontline workers, provinces and territories on the design of the inquiry to draw on the valuable work that has already been done. This will include soliciting input on the objectives, scope and parameters of the inquiry in order to help determine the terms of reference, possible activities, participants and commissioners. The Ministers showed an openness to a broad scope of inquiry including consideration of multiple factors such as colonization, marginalization, inequality, racism, sexism, residential schools, substance abuse, and lack of safe transportation for women in remote communities.
In Phase 2 the inquiry will take place. While Minister Bennett emphasized that there were no strict timelines on either phase, she said they hope to announce the start of Phase 2 in the spring of next year. She noted that the Liberal party’s platform promise of $40 million over 2 years for an inquiry was only a placeholder for whatever timeline and funding is needed to “get it right”.
The inquiry will include an online component so that all Canadians can better understand the issues and track the progress of the inquiry. Minister Wilson-Raybould stressed that violence against Indigenous women and girls is not an “indigenous problem” or a “women’s issue” but a national tragedy that has diminished all Canadians and requires a national response. The plan they outlined for a collaborative and inclusive process is a hopeful start to this important task.