British Columbia

Terms of reference of MMIW inquiry "lack teeth" says B.C. First Nations Chief

The Assembly of First Nations says the draft terms of reference for the missing and murdered women's national inquiry, lack teeth. This week the CBC obtained the draft document for the upcoming national inquiry. Shane Gottfriedson who holds the AFN's national portfolio on missing and murdered Indigenous women says he heard nothing from the federal government about the inquiry, until he took to social media to voice his concerns Wednesday night.

"Why the secrecy?" family member Lorelie Williams asks.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Chief Shane Gottfriedson says the federal government has shut the door on the AFN, family members and other organizations in the development of the terms of reference for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. (CBC)

An Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief says the draft terms of reference for the missing and murdered women's national inquiry, lack teeth.

This week the CBC obtained a draft document for the upcoming national inquiry.

Shane Gottfriedson who holds the AFN's national portfolio on missing and murdered Indigenous women says he heard nothing from the federal government about the inquiry, until he took to social media to voice his concerns Wednesday night. 

"For the last 7 months they've been working on their own and developing the terms of reference,"  Gottfriedson said.

"We haven't been involved, the families haven't been involved, and NGO's haven't been involved and that's where the level of frustration starts to mount," he said. 

Lorelei Williams is concerned the terms of reference for the national inquiry were written in secrecy and worries that it may mirror the Pickton Inquiry, which she and other families called a failure for not adequately addressing police misconduct and discrimination. (CBC News).

But after a MMIW advocate posted Gottfriedson's concerns with his phone number on facebook last night, a senior government official contacted him this morning.

"They want to sit down and seek advice on our input on the terms of reference. Im pleased about that but I'm still not overly thrilled that for the last 7 months we've been left out of the process," he said. 

"Why the Secrecy?" 

Lorelei Williams, whose cousin Tanya Holyk's DNA was found on serial killer Robert Pickton's farm, also feels family members were left out in the cold.

"I was confused because I thought we were going to be involved in the process and when the leaked document came out I wondered, why the secrecy?" Williams said. 

She's concerned the national inquiry will mirror the Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry that looked into the Pictkon murders. Some family members, like Williams, feel that inquiry was a dismal failure because it did not adequately look at policing. 

"From the community, they are voicing that it shouldn't be like the Pickton inquiry, they cant stress that enough," Williams said. 

In the 17 pre-inquiry meetings held this year, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett heard that family members wanted to see policing examined in the inquiry. 

But the draft terms of reference, while addressing "systemic and institutional" concerns leaves out references to the police or the justice system.

Shelagh Day of the Feminist Alliance for International Action says that raises red flags. 

Facing tough questions

"The word police or policing or justice system is not used anywhere in the terms of reference, that's a concern those those of us who have been working on this for such a long time," Shelagh Day said.

Carolyn Bennett's office told the CBC they cannot confirm or deny that the word police or justice system will be included in the final terms of reference.

But from her own account Bennett tweeted that the inquiry will examine all systemic issues including policing. 

In some cases, like in the years leading up to Robert Pickton's arrest, family members felt ignored.

"The whole question of how our police have behaved inadequately, sometimes have engaged in misconduct and discriminatory treatment of both families and women is very important, I think this is a very hard thing for us to deal with, but it's crucial," Day said.

In a statement the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs told CBC News it is "currently working with the provinces and territories to finalize terms of reference that would provide commissioners with a mandate to consider a broad range of issues."

Further to the statement a representative with Bennett's office said "out of respect, the minister is not able to do interviews on the specifics of the ToR until we're able to discuss them with the families."

Numerous family members CBC News spoke with, said they had not yet been contacted by Bennett's office.

There are still no details of when the national inquiry will be held. Family members say they are preparing for the announcement to happen soon.