National inquiry seeks 'best practices' for a database of missing, murdered Indigenous women

National inquiry seeks 'best practices' for a database of missing, murdered Indigenous women

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls wants to clear up confusion around the lists it is compiling after it faced criticism over the low numbers of family members it has registered.

As of Tuesday, the inquiry had collected the names of 122 family members. On Thursday, commissioners released a toll-free number for people to call to indicate their interest in participating in the inquiry. That number is: 1-844-348-4119

But that list, and that voluntary sign-up process is entirely separate from a database of the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, said Christa Big Canoe, commission counsel for the inquiry.

"A number of them [lists of missing and murdered] exist and are publicly available, as well, we have received the names of missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls from Canada," Big Canoe told CBC News.

Big Canoe could not say how many names the inquiry has received from Canada because, she said, the data has not been interpreted by the inquiry's research staff from the "analytics" provided by the government. 

"We have received the data and we're continuing to go through it," she said.

Several existing lists

The inquiry does have the power to subpoena evidence, but Big Canoe said that's unlikely to be necessary for getting lists of missing and murdered compiled by groups such as the Native Women's Association of Canada, researcher Maryanne Pearce, the grassroots organization It Starts with Us, and CBC News.

The inquiry will be seeking "best practices" from those groups, and others, that have collected names of the dead or disappeared as part of the public hearings process, she said.

"It's important the commissioners get to hear evidence about what a database needs to be and what are the best mechanisms for keeping the list current," Big Canoe said.

'The real numbers'

Still, it's not clear yet clear if the inquiry will produce a database of its own, or fully answer the question of how many Indigenous women are missing or have been murdered.

"We are aware of the need to understand the real numbers," she said. "It's part of what the research team, the commissioners and legal team will be working on in terms of collecting the actual evidence and that will become part of the public record.

"Within the mandate, there's an opportunity to commemorate, which to some people looks like a list," she added. "The one thing I would say is that we may not get all the information even if we try or put best efforts in, there may be people that don't show up on the list based on what evidence we receive."

The inquiry's public hearings, beginning with testimony from families, are scheduled to start in May.