The upcoming federal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women will be more than a "dusty report that sits on a shelf," federal ministers promised Friday.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett along with Patty Hajdu, minister of status of women, met with family members and loved ones of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Calgary.
- Bob Paulson says he doesn't want racists inside RCMP ranks
- ANALYSIS | For indigenous people, inquiries can fuel change — but only if governments act
- Special Report | Missing and murdered — unsolved cases of indigenous women and girls
The ministers have met with families across the country ahead of the inquiry, which is expected to launch sometime before the summer
Hajdu said she heard "painful" stories from the families she spoke to and said there's a lack of compassion in the way victims and their families are treated.
The minister said she heard about "real, tangible examples of a system that completely fails a group of people in a really inequitable way."
As the former head of Shelter House, Thunder Bay's largest homeless shelter, Hajdu said she's seen the problem first-hand.
"I have witnessed myself, women who say that they were raped, and being told as an executive director of an agency advocating for that woman, that 'she says that all the time. It couldn't possibly be true,' without even doing a rape kit." Hajdu said. "This is an ongoing problem."
'No trust' in justice system
Bennett said the RCMP figure of 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women is likely incomplete. She said she's heard of many cases of missing or murdered women that aren't investigated because they're classified as a suicide, an accident or an overdose.
"More than any other place we've been in Canada, the need to reopen some of these cases was a very resounding message today."
Bennett said some of the families she spoke to said they want other avenues to appeal the results of an investigation, or to push for more help.
"They feel that they want to be able to go somewhere other than a local department to be able to report that and to be able to do better," she said.
Quick action promised
Bennett promised that her government is "not going to wait" on the results of the inquiry before moving forward to help the family members and loved ones of missing and murdered indigenous women.
The government is already working on shelter, housing and victim support services.
"There's a lot of work to do, but there's a lot of work that we can do immediately," Hajdu said, stressing the importance of early intervention and honouring each family's knowledge of their loved ones.
"To completely discount what families say as the nature of their loved one is truly missing an opportunity in some cases to find this woman when she's still alive," Hajdu said.
"This is actually a life-and-death critical intersection that needs to happen."
Ministers promise accountability
Both Hajdu and Bennett said fixing the crisis requires systematic changes from the street level to the federal government.
"We know if we can keep Canadians with us on this journey, it's going to be pretty hard to leave that report on a shelf," Bennett said.
"We are going to have to be accountable and we look forward to that."