Saturday February 20, 2016

Carolyn Bennett shares lessons from pre-inquiry talks on murdered, missing indigneous women

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould, left, looks on as Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett speaks.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould, left, looks on as Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett speaks. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Listen 7:57

It may not be possible to have a clear figure of how many indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered, but that's not entirely the point when it comes to launching a federal inquiry into the crisis, says Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett.

 "My point was that what we've been hearing from families is that we need to include many, many women exposed to violence that actually survived it. Those voices are going to be very important in the design of the inquiry," Bennett told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

A 2014 report by the RCMP concluded 1,017 aboriginal women had been slain between 1980 and 2012, and that another 164 were considered missing.

But earlier this week, Canada's minister for the status of women Patty Hajdu suggested the number could be much higher, citing research from the Native Women's Association of Canada that puts it at 4,000.

Bennett said anecdotally, she has heard "many stories" from families whose loved ones were not included in the RCMP's original list.

"If their loved one's death was deemed an accident, or a suicide, or natural courses or an overdose, there wasn't any investigation," she said. 

That's one of the issues Bennett is seeking to address as she and Hajdu wrapped up cross-country talks this week ahead of a formal national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women.

Support for families is one of the key takeaways from the pre-inquiry talks, she added.

"The lack of support for families was very important," Bennett said. "The overriding message from families and survivors [of violence] is, how do we stop this tragedy? What are concrete measures to ensure our grandchildren will be able to walk safely in their home communities and in cities?"

With the federal budget expected in the coming weeks, Bennett hinted there will be money set aside in it for "the things we know we've got to do" — including housing, shelter and overhauling the child welfare system.

"Those are things that are making women vulnerable," she said. "We have a two-pronged approach — things we need to get going on now, and things we need to study."

Bennett said that for now, the Liberals' election campaign promise of $40 million over two years for the inquiry is "enough to get going." 

"Once we're able to choose the commissioners, a work plan, and the terms of reference, then we'll be able to sort out what we need going forward."

Bennett said the formal inquiry will be struck sometime before summer, and will include input from the provinces and territories.