British Columbia

Emotional MMIWG hearings weigh on families, commissioners

The final public hearing for the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls ends Sunday.

Final public hearing for inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls ends Sunday

Lisa Big John recounts the moment she realized her sister Mona was killed by Robert Pickton. (MMWIG)

It wasn't easy for Lisa Big John to share her story in front of a crowded room, and an array of cameras.

Wrestling back tears, Big John recounted the moment a police officer said her sister, Mona Wilson, might have been killed by a serial killer.

"The reality kicked in when they came and got our DNA, and sure enough, she was one of the last victims of Robert Pickton," Big John told commissioner Marion Buller at the public hearing Thursday at the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The tragic stories echoing through the halls of the Sheraton Hotel in Richmond, B.C. have weighed on the five commissioners tasked with leading the inquiry.

Tears have been shed, and the urgency is setting in — this is the last public inquiry that will take place before they file their final report.

At least it is for now.

Mona Wilson was one of the many Vancouver women killed by Robert Pickton. (MMIWG)

Feeling 'the weight'

"We'd like more time, more time to dig deeper into the issues, to dig deeper into regionally specific issues," said commissioner Qajaq Robinson on Friday.

"Each province, each territory, each community has nuanced challenges but also nuanced solutions."

The commission has requested a two-year extension beyond their Dec. 31, 2018 deadline. But Ottawa has yet to make a decision.

But the road thus far has been long and challenging.

Commissioner Qajaq Robinson says the commission is pushing for a two-year extension so the commission can hear from more communities and survivors. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The inquiry has been plagued by numerous firings and resignations. Some of its greatest supporters, like Lisa Big John, are disheartened by its course.

"I've been involved with this inquiry for many, many years, and I haven't really seen anything that's come out of this journey," she told CBC News.

'They took me away from my mom'

Among those changes Big John would like to see are improvements to B.C.'s foster care program.

Big John testified alongside her daughter, Lisa Robinson, who was abruptly taken away from her as a child and placed in an abusive foster home.

Lisa Robinson and her mother, Lisa Big John, testify at the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (MMWIG)

"I always prayed, every day that I would see my mom," said Lisa Jacqueline Robinson. "They took me away from my mom, when she wasn't even doing anything wrong. They put us in the hands of these monsters."

"I hope that system gets better somehow," she said.

Commissioner Qajaq Robinson says it's stories like theirs that highlight the responsibility the commission has to begin curbing the systemic violence against Indigenous women. It's an immensely daunting task.

"It weighs on me every day, it should weigh on all of us in this country," she said. "We all have a role to play in making our communities safer, and ensuring as a nation we live up to the human rights standards, and the standards of dignity and justice."