British Columbia·Q&A

MMIW inquiry needs to give solutions, says B.C. child and youth representative

"More high-level studying without immediate solutions — you know, some of us just don’t have an appetite for that," Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond said of the federal government's inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says there have already been studies, and this one needs to be different

Joan Friesen, whose family member Donna Navvaq Kusugak died in 2003, wipes her eyes during the announcement of the inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. B.C.'s representative for children and youth say this inquiry needs to produce answers for people like Friesen. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Enough high-level studies — it's time for solutions.

That's the message from B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, after the federal government announced the terms of reference for the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The inquiry will examine the systemic causes and the impacts of violence against Indigenous women, including the role of the child welfare system.

In an interview with The Early Edition's Rick Cluff, Turpel-Lafond said that is a crucial aspect that must be looked at.

Why is the child welfare system so important when it comes to looking at the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls?

Child welfare systems are there to protect the safety and well-being of children so they don't follow a pathway of being marginalized and normalizing an experience of abuse, neglect and maltreatment and then perhaps becoming easy targets and victims.

[The commission] needs to look at these early systems to see if they've worked in the past but also how they're working today.

Do you have examples of how the child welfare system has failed or played a role in some of the cases of missing or murdered women?

I did a pretty exhaustive report on Paige who died on the Downtown Eastside. It's a pretty emblematic case. Paige died there, her mother died on the Downtown Eastside about a year after she died almost in the same terrible circumstances. This was all after we'd already had a Pickton inquiry operating, and this is in Vancouver.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, says looking at the child welfare system is an essential task for the inquiry. (CBC)

You know, [as] one of the wealthiest provinces, we actually have one of the highest numbers of unsolved cases for missing and murdered women in Canada ... Our justice system issues, our child welfare system issues are massive.

Paige's case pretty meticulously showed: 40 times police engaged with her, multiple times she's in the hospital, living on the street, she has a mum living in an SRO, she's being sexually abused, she's being physically abused. She's being left to struggle and she dies.

Could that story be different? Of course it could. I hope this commission can bring some of those systems to a position of change.

Were you consulted about this inquiry?

I think a lot of people have pushed for this. This inquiry is a response to families who've taken their grief they've experienced and said, "We want answers." And they want their grief to lead to action, but before it can get to action they need to know what happened.

This commission has the potential to answer that or this commission has the potential to be a study commission that doesn't answer that.

Paige, 19, died of a drug overdose after a troubled life on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Representative for Children and Youth)

We've had commissions. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People in the 1990s — five years, 4,000 pages, 440 recommendations. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission just finished — seven years, 94 calls to action, hundreds of recommendations.

Some people, kind of like me in my age and stage, you know, I really want solutions as quickly as possible. And studying is important, this is very significant work but I think this work needs to be different.

There are things that need to be changed today for safety for women and children, and many, many provinces and territories are lagging far behind, including this one in British Columbia.

More high-level studying without immediate solutions — you know, some of us just don't have an appetite for that.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition

From left, Commissioners Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press) (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry needs to look at child welfare: Turpel-Lafond