An Indigenous woman whose cousin was murdered and aunt went missing says it is “too late” for the federal Conservatives to start backing a national inquiry into the epidemic facing Aboriginal women and girls.
Lorelei Williams made the comment Monday in response to interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose’s recent support for an inquiry. The Conservatives' new position comes after years of former prime minister Stephen Harper rejecting the idea and failing to acknowledge the colonial roots of the issue.
Williams is part of a coalition of First Nations, family members, and advocacy organizations that came together after its members were shut out of B.C.’s MMIW inquiry into the problem. The coalition has been demanding a Canada-wide public inquiry for several years.
Coalition members gathered in Vancouver to release their recommendations for the new Trudeau government’s anticipated national inquiry into the problem.
Among its submissions, the group wants to see Aboriginal women at the forefront of the process, as commissioners, and for any resulting recommendations to come with a fully-funded implementation plan.
“We need Indigenous women to be central to the substance and the process of this inquiry,” said Indigenous women’s advocate and coalition member Fay Blaney. “This is about our lives and our safety. … It goes without saying that Indigenous women feel the greatest impact of that systemic discrimination.”
There have been nearly 1,200 police-reported cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women over the last three decades, according to the RCMP.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told the Canadian Press on Monday that the government would start consulting Canadians about how to best proceed with a national inquiry in the next couple of weeks.
Bennett said the process will involve speaking with victims’ family members and other organizations and representatives — which is also something the coalition wants to see happen.
The coalition is asking for the consultation to establish a mandate and parameters for the inquiry as well as the criteria for appointments of commissioners and other staff.
The commissioner of the B.C. inquiry, Wally Oppal, concluded in 2012 that Pickton’s victims faced systemic discrimination and were failed by both the police and society at large.
Oppal issued 63 recommendations, including those for public transit along the so-called Highway of Tears in northern B.C. and ongoing police sensitivity and cultural training.
But Kendra Milne, the director of law reform at the women’s equality organization West Coast LEAF, said the great majority of those recommendations were never fully realized.
Milne said the B.C. inquiry also left Aboriginal women out and didn’t address the root cause of the violence. “We urge the federal government to learn from B.C.’s mistakes when it embarks on a national inquiry,” she said. “We also urge B.C. to take urgent action to correct the mistakes as it can.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said the cost of executing the coalition’s recommendations isn’t yet known, but that the inquiry “shouldn’t be a function of cost,” and has to be done right.
He added that the effort cannot be a repeat of the Oppal inquiry and “absolutely demands a woman’s voice.”
“The commissioners themselves need to be women,” he said. “This is long overdue. It’s one of the most disgraceful abuses of the human rights of the Indigenous people of this country.”