Pressure builds as missing, murdered Indigenous women inquiry prepares public hearings

Pressure builds as missing, murdered Indigenous women inquiry prepares public hearings

More details were released this week about how the national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will proceed, but some family members say they still have many questions.

A second weekly newsletter was published on the inquiry's website on Monday. It outlines the ways family members can share their experiences. That testimony will make up the first phase of the inquiry, with hearings set to begin in May.

The application form for organizations and groups seeking standing in the proceedings was also released this week. It asks those seeking standing to tick a box indicating which issue or issues the group will address. 

The listed options include child welfare, criminal justice system, education and education systems, impact of colonization, policing, constitutional issues, death investigations processes, health and health services, and media and social media.

Even as more information begins to flow, some families remain unsure if the inquiry will meet their expectations.

Here are five outstanding concerns:

Communications

"I've attended family gatherings and I've attended the pre-consultation meetings leading up to the inquiry, but since the inquiry was announced, I feel a little bit left behind," said Karen Kejick of Shoal Lake 39 First Nation in northern Ontario.

Her mother, Frances Kejick was killed in 1997.

Information about missing and murdered women and their families shared in the pre-inquiry discussions was not passed on to the inquiry and so families are required to register on the website to receive information and to participate in the inquiry.

Database

One of the key demands from groups that lobbied for an inquiry was building a national database of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

An RCMP report from 2015 found that between 1980 and 2014, 1,224 Indigenous women and girls were either killed or disappeared. But some Liberal cabinet ministers have said they believe the number is likely much greater.

More than halfway through year one of the inquiry's two-year mandate, a research plan for establishing the database is still in development.

Investigative powers

Naomi Abottosaway wants the inquiry to help find her sister's killer.

Sonya Nadine Mae Cywink, 31, was pregnant and planning to go back to school when she was killed near London, Ont., in 1994.

Abottosaway said the inquiry must help families find answers.

"Anyone of us who has faced this devastating loss of losing a loved one to murder, we live day-to-day as to what happened, why it happened and how do we get justice served," she said.

But reinvestigating or reopening individual cases is on the list of things the inquiry can not do, according to the latest newsletter.

Location of hearings

The inquiry will travel across the country to hear testimony from families. Locations of the hearings are expected to be revealed soon.

But, with limited time available, it's unlikely commissioners will visit every community that invites them and urban centres, with their larger populations, may get priority.

Karen Kejick said it's critical for her to be heard at the inquiry, in her own language and in her own territory.

"There's a real need to have it in our ceremonial roundhouse, where there's a drum, where we're on the land, where we're connected to each other," she said. "It's such a sacred time for healing."

Timing

The testimony from families is scheduled to wrap up in the fall, when the inquiry will turn its attention to the organizations and groups that receive standing.

That's simply not enough time for commissioners to understand the experience of losing a loved one, Abottosaway said.

"It's way too short," she said. "We don't need to be pushed into something quickly. If you're pushed into something too fast, it fails and you've lost the momentum and some people are going to walk away and say, 'it's useless'."

Still, both Abottosaway and Kejick remain optimistic that the inquiry can be persuaded to address their concerns.

"Before we were more quiet and were told not to say anything and we were told 'it's done, it's over with'," Abottosaway said. "But I look at what my mother and my sisters, my aunties and uncles gave to us: you never give up. I'll never give up."

An interim report from the inquiry is due in November 2017, with a final report in December 2018.