British Columbia

Guatemalan researcher urges speedy resolve to missing and murdered women cold cases

A Guatemalan researcher who has dedicated his life to finding justice for the victims of Guatemala's civil war, says delays in Canada's inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women could have consequences.

'The families are beginning to die so it's time to act,' says forensic anthropologist

Forensic anthropologist Fredy Peccerelli is in Prince George to receive an honourary degree from UNBC and share what he's learned while investigating missing and murdered Indigenous people in his own country. (UNBC)

A Guatemalan researcher says time is of the essence when it comes to gathering evidence in cold cases involving Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Fredy Peccerelli, a forensic anthropologist, has been working to identify the remains of victims who disappeared or were killed during Guatemala's decades-long civil war during which tens of thousands of the country's Indigenous Mayans were killed.

"The more that time passes the more that these remains are disintegrating in the ground," Peccerelli told Audrey McKinnon, host of CBC's Daybreak North in reference to cold Canadian cases.

"The families are beginning to die, so it's time to act."

An RCMP report in 2014 put the tally of missing and murdered women at nearly 1,200, though others have said the number is higher.

Time pressures

The families are beginning to die, so it's time to act- Fredy Peccerelli

Canada's own inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women has been under fire by families and groups who criticize delays and say family members of the victims have not been given enough access to the commission.

After delays, the commission is preparing to hold its first public hearings in Whitehorse next week. Testimony from about 30 families will follow traditional ceremony.

Peccerelli said he hopes to drive home the importance of taking immediate action on these kinds of investigations.

He participated in a panel discussion alongside Terry Teegee, chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George, on Wednesday.

"Time is of the essence," said Teegee who has lost two family members since 1995, including Ramona Wilson, a 16-year-old girl whose body was found near Smithers that year.

Teegee is worried that the national inquiry is missing out on opportunities to gather relevant stories and evidence as a result of the delays.

He and a number of Indigenous leaders and advocates have also expressed concerns that the process for families to participate has been too complicated and not inclusive enough.

"The way it has rolled out so far is a detriment in terms of the whole process itself," he said.

Events in Prince George

Peccerelli is receiving an honourary from the University of Northern British Columbia this week and the school is hosting the premiere of a documentary called Finding Oscar, which was produced by Steven Spielberg.

The film follows Peccerelli and his team as they work to uncover the fate of a three-year-old Guatemalan boy whose life was spared before he was kidnapped following a massacre in the 1980s. Admission is free.

With files from CBC Radio One's Daybreak North