Ottawa's plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women due by June: Bennett

OTTAWA — The Liberal government will release its national action plan to respond to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by June 2020, says Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.

This will mean a full year will have passed after the inquiry's final report was released before the public will get a chance to see Ottawa's official plan to act on the inquiry's 231 "calls for justice."

Speaking to chiefs and delegates at a special meeting of the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa Wednesday, Bennett said the government has been taking time to consult with Indigenous communities, leaders and organizations to ensure the action plan reflects the views of the people most affected.

"Co-development will be the key to getting this right, but we know that the plan has to be built on the wise practice of Indigenous women, those with lived experience and those with expertise," she said.

"Every community must be able to see themselves in the plan."

The report's recommendations include calls for an effective response to human-trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence, including in the sex industry.

A national Indigenous- and human-rights ombudsperson and a national Indigenous- and human-rights tribunal are also needed, the report states.

The inquiry examined systemic problems in the justice system and has also called for justice and police officials to acknowledge that the historical and current relationship with Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people has been largely defined by colonialism, racism, bias and discrimination.

Bennett dismissed any notion the federal government is taking too long to act on the inquiry's findings, noting some have raised concerns the June 2020 target date for the action plan might be "ambitious."

She she wants "something in the window" by June to show the government is committed to taking action, adding that this work would be ongoing.  

"I do believe that an action plan is a living document and that we can fulfil of the wishes of the families and the survivors that they shouldn't have to wait to have concrete action put in place to stop this national tragedy," Bennett said.

She pointed to steps that have been taken in the interim to help the families of victims, including family-information liaison units, which were established to help victims' families navigate bureaucracies to get information about loved ones.

This program was set to expire by March 31, but Justice Minister David Lametti announced Wednesday funding will be extended for another three years.

Ottawa has provided $4.67 million a year since 2016 for the program.

During his time at the podium at the assembly in an Ottawa hotel Wednesday, Lametti also addressed what he called the "elephant in the room" — the federal government's ongoing appeal the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision ordering Ottawa to pay $40,000 to every First Nations child who was inappropriately taken away from their parents after 2006, as well as to their parents and grandparents.

"Many of you believe our government’s response to that decision is a sign that we are not moving down a new path. That question weighed heavily on my mind when I was preparing to come speak with you today," Lametti said.

The Liberal government is appealing the ruling over how the tribunal interpreted the law and "the limited, exclusionary path it has set out for remedy," Lametti said.

Canada caused pain and damage to First Nations children and bears the responsibility to help with healing, which includes fair compensation, he said.

"We are committed to working with partners like the AFN to achieve fair, equitable and inclusive healing for victims, which includes compensation. We must do it once, and we must do it right."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press