'I still hear her voice': Edmonton man asks missing-women inquiry for help finding mother

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have been meeting with a team from the national inquiry in Edmonton this week.

Inquiry team in Edmonton meeting families in preparation for November hearings

Laurie Davies (left) supporting Ricki Munro at the national inquiry meeting in Edmonton Wednesday. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Haunted by the mystery disappearance of his mother 17 years ago, Ricki Munro brought the case to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on Wednesday.

An inquiry team is in Edmonton this week meeting privately with families to get them registered and ready for the actual hearings which will be held here in November.

Blind from birth, the 26-year-old Munro uses a cane to find his way. He walked into a south Edmonton hotel Wednesday to meet a team from the national inquiry and talk about his missing mother.

"It's been 17 years and I would like to know where she is and why she went missing," said Munro.

Munro is among a number of Edmontonians to go before the inquiry team, which is holding community visits as part of what it calls the truth-gathering process. The team began three days of private meetings in Edmonton on Tuesday.

Munro's mother, Linda May Scott, was 29 when she went missing in 2000. Her case was highlighted in a CBC investigation examining missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Originally from the Blood tribe in southern Alberta, it's believed Scott went missing from Edmonton.

The last time Munro spent time with his mother, he was around the age of five. He said that's when he was taken away from her and placed in foster care.

It was a life-changing turning point he never really recovered from. And ever since, he's been desperate to be reunited with her.

"I don't know where she is. I don't know why she is gone and she would have been a very good advocate for me," he said.

Munro said the fond memories his grandparents passed down about his missing mother have made him even more determined to search for answers in her case.

"To this day I still hear her voice. It's like opening a wound every time," he said.

The national inquiry is examining the circumstances behind the deaths of the disproportionate number of Indigenous women who have been killed or disappeared in Canada.

My people are still going through perpetual poverty.- Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail

A 2014 RCMP report identified 1,017 Indigenous women who had been killed or gone missing between 1980 and 2012.

Some experts estimate the number of victims to be closer to 4,000.

Inquiry commissioners have been asked to compile a final report including recommendations to promote healthier and safer communities for Indigenous women and girls across the country.

"The situations that set us up to be vulnerable need to be addressed like the lack of resources," said Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, another person who spoke to the inquiry team.

Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail (left) being comforted by Maggie Hodgson, who was brought in by the inquiry as an elder to support families sharing their experiences. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Wabano-Iahtail told her own story of being attacked while pregnant, resulting in the loss of her baby in 2001. "My people are still going through perpetual poverty in terms of housing and medical needs," she said.

The meetings in Edmonton this week are being presided over by inquiry lawyers and health experts but the commissioners are not present.

With Edmontonians sharing their tragic experiences of losing loved ones, the inquiry arranged for a team of elders to be on hand to offer support this week.

But inquiry officials said several people have felt relief at being able to finally share their stories in a forum they've been waiting for.

"They leave here with a weight off their shoulders, you can just see it, because they were able to give the voice of their family and loved one," said Melissa Carlick, a community liaison officer and health coordinator with the inquiry.

Assistance is also available from a team provided by the Alberta Family Liaison Unit.

"So far I've had about thirteen families come forward and sometimes it's just they want to talk," said Laurie Davies,who works with the liaison unit. "They may want help in getting police reports, court reports or death certificates or even medical examiner reports."

Staff from the Alberta Family Information Liaison Unit are at the hearings to offer families support. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

The inquiry has previously faced criticism after being accused of taking too long to do its work.

But the chair, Marion Buller, who will be in Edmonton for November hearings, has defended its approach.

Carlick said the inquiry is doing everything it can to complete its report by the current deadline of Dec. 31, 2018.

Munro, meanwhile, is hoping the inquiry's high profile and its work across the country could lead to a breakthrough in his mother's case.

"Until answers are found I will not find any closure."