Many First Nations leaders and advocates in B.C. distrust the framework for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada — and demand the body been given enough scope to look at how policing has played into deaths.
The long-awaited Canada-wide look at issues that led to so many tragedies was questioned, especially by family members who lost loved ones.
Lorelei Williams held a feather as she talked about her aunts and cousins. Two were lost to serial killers. One family member was raped and survived. Another was pushed out a Downtown Eastside window.
So many lives lost, calls for help ignored
There is a litany of pain and trauma that makes Williams suspicious of the inquiry, despite promises that it will offer change.
"I have more questions than answers. I don't know if I am ready to embrace this inquiry," said Williams.
She wants the inquiry to look at policing and police accountability because she believes racism and indifference to Indigenous women by some officers has made it difficult to get anybody to take the search for missing family members seriously. She says she too was left to walk alone along a highway when she was 17 years old, stranded after being dismissed by 911 when she called for help.
Demands to look at RCMP
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said the framework for the inquiry is flawed, and needs more funding or protections in writing that ensure recommendations will be acted on, instead of ignored.
He wants the inquiry's scope to include a hard look at the issues of racism and sexism in the RCMP, saying racist attitudes on police forces have contributed to Indigenous deaths for decades.
"This is about accountability. Full stop. We need to ensure we do not blow this opportunity," said Phillip.
"The issue ...is an indelible black mark on the human rights record of Canada. We are not sitting here cheerleading."
Other speakers noted it has taken 30 years to get this far, and many spoke out demanding:
- A clearer term of reference for the inquiry, to ensure it is national.
- A focus on the women who are missing.
- Look at the failure to take families reports seriously.
- Failure to pass information between jurisdictions.
- Sexual and racist treatment of Indigenous women and girls by authorities, including police.
- Funding for real change, guaranteed even if governments change.
- A way to independently review cases where families have lost trust in police and investigators.
- A national body that polices the police, that's civilian-run and independent.
- A federal act similar to one in the U.S. that covers violence against women.
"Our women are being hurt. They are still being hunted," said long-time activist Myrna Cranmer.
She said they don't need a $53-million inquiry, more talk and more recommendations.
"We know why are women are disappearing ... there are so many unsolved murders and nobody cares," said Cranmer.
She wants the money spent on protecting women with safe housing and other basic needs, instead of spending the money on an inquiry, especially if it leads to no change.
Inquiry will be lead by B.C. judge
B.C.'s first female First Nations judge — Marion Buller — is poised to lead the inquiry, acting as chief commissioner on a five-member panel.
The coalition was first formed to respond during the original Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in British Columbia overseen by former B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal.