Canada’s inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls doesn’t go far enough

Police conduct should be part of the inquiry
Photo: McGill Daily

Many Canadians met the announcement last August of a long-awaited and much-requested inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with relief. Sadly, the inquiry simply doesn’t go far enough.

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The statistics are horrifying, and the number of violent cases (many of them unsolved) easily justify such a huge undertaking as a national inquiry.

Statistics Canada data from 2014 alone showed that Indigenous people constituted five per cent of Canada's population, but nearly one-quarter of homicide victims that year, according to a CBC article.

Quebec’s just-announced provincial inquiry into the relations between Indigenous people and certain public services will go a significant step further.

The inquiry, which commenced on Sept. 1, is set to run until Dec. 31, 2018, at an estimated cost of $53.8 million. Marion Buller, British Columbia's first woman Indigenous judge, was appointed chief commissioner of a very impressive and competent five-member panel.

Expand the inquiry, include the police

As good as all this is, however, the inquiry simply isn’t extensive enough. Greater focus needs to be given to the violence suffered by Indigenous men, and more recommendations and input from the people directly affected by violence, systemic racism, and racial profiling should be included. Finally, the inquiry’s mandate needs to be expanded to include an investigation into the relationship between police and Indigenous communities. Despite repeated requests and numerous accusations of racist and sexist police abuse, the government has failed to do so.

Unlike its federal counterpart, Quebec’s just-announced provincial inquiry into the relations between Indigenous people and certain public services will go a significant step further. Perhaps compelled by the horrible allegations of police abuse in Val-d'Or and the inability of our legal system to convict a single officer, even after 38 accusations, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has decided the provincial inquiry will look into police conduct.

The sexual violence allegations in Val-d'Or, which led to a closer look at the systemic racism affecting the local Indigenous community, were no doubt eye-opening to many.

According to the Quebec government’s announcement, the inquiry will look into “all forms of violence, discriminatory practices and differential treatment” in the delivery of government services to Indigenous people in the province. Since the inquiry is expected to complement the federal one, and will also run until the end of 2018, the hope is that information gathered by the Province will benefit all of Canada.

How can we make this process as useful as possible?

As with most inquiries and commissions, the underlying fear remains that they’re meant to provide the mere appearance of doing something, while doing absolutely nothing concrete at all (at great expense to taxpayers, no less).

Many Canadians are understandably loathe to publicly criticize an inquiry that has been demanded for so long, for fear of appearing to look a gift horse in the mouth or contributing to analysis paralysis.

However, it’s vital that a critical glance is cast now, at the very beginning, so adjustments and improvements can be made over the course of the next two years.

As a country, in light of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we have mostly moved past debating the necessity of an inquiry and are now focused on making this national inquiry as useful as possible.

Despite the best of intentions, no investigation will ever be as precise, thorough, and hard-hitting as everyone personally affected by this violence would want. There is a very real possibility that many people, including the families of victims desperately seeking answers to painful questions, may walk away unsatisfied and disappointed in the results and the findings.

While one can understand the limitations of time and budgetary considerations, it’s imperative we don’t ignore these justifiable criticisms of the federal inquiry.

The federal government needs to ensure the time and money invested into this national inquiry produces concrete results in the form of violence prevention, the eradication (or at the very least a decrease in the near future) of systemic racism and racial profiling against Indigenous people, and finally an acknowledgment their voices and concerns have been truly heard.

It’s also imperative, with both a federal and a provincial inquiry taking place, that everyone involved aim to reduce redundancy of effort and money, and increase efforts to complement each inquiry’s findings. A failure to properly address concerns about all facets of government that affect Indigenous communities (child care, welfare services, education, police conduct, legal system, youth protection, health and social services, correctional system, etc.) is a failure to truly look at the systemic problems that afflict members of Canada’s Indigenous communities and render them more vulnerable to violence.

Ultimately, it’s a failure to deliver on the promise of what these inquiries essentially represent: making things better and rendering some sort of justice where it has been denied for far too long.

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