With no date set for MMIW inquiry, Manitoba mother regrets voting Liberal
'Almost every Aboriginal person here, we went and voted for him. Now, I think it was a mistake,' she says
A Manitoba mother is questioning her decision to vote Liberal as one year of power for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approaches and still, there is no date set for an inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women.
Joyce Gabriel's 20-year-old daughter, Rocelyn, froze to death near Portage la Prairie's recycling depot on Jan. 26, 2014.
"Mr. Trudeau at the time said, 'Yes. I support the families and I am going to put on an inquiry.' I think he just wanted the families' votes," Gabriel said.
"Almost every Aboriginal person here … we went and voted for him. Now, I think it was a mistake."
Gabriel said she was not surprised to learn that Manitoba had not officially committed to the inquiry. Politicians, she said, will never understand the plight of Indigenous families who have lost loved ones until they step into their shoes.
"Without being in our shoes, [Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister] will never understand," she said.
Disappointment across Canada
The desperation, hurt and disappointment in Gabriel's voice was echoed Thursday by First Nations chiefs who also pointed to the delay in the federal government's commitment to hold a national inquiry.
During the final day of an annual general assemble meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., the chiefs called on the provinces and Ottawa to stop putting off the task.
Manitoba Progressive Conservative Justice Minister and Attorney General Heather Stefanson said the province has committed to the national inquiry, but continues to negotiate with the federal government to make sure the initiative will not cover ground already dealt with by past inquiries, including the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair.
"That way, there is more money freed up to actually go towards implementing whatever recommendations come forward," Stefanson said.
Led by commissioner Ted Hughes, the $14-million public inquiry — one of the biggest in Manitoba's history — examined how Manitoba's child and family services (CFS) system failed five-year-old Phoenix before she was murdered by her mother and stepfather in 2005.
Consultation with Indigenous people on the inquiry's terms of reference are also a priority for Stefanson, she said.
"We want to make sure that they see these terms of reference. They may have something to add to it," she said.
"I am very concerned that there hasn't been enough consultation there."
Stefanson insists the inquiry's commissioner be from Manitoba — a province with an Indigenous population of 17 per cent and for many, ground zero of the Canadian crisis. Stefanson said she is hopeful that Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, will agree to a commissioner from the province.
Bernadette Smith, whose sister, Claudette Osborne vanished from Winnipeg's North End in 2008, seconds Stefanson's opinion.
"I know that Manitoba and families across the country would like to see [NDP MLA] Nahanni Fontaine appointed," or Smith added, a member of a family personally affected by the issue.
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Before being elected, Fontaine was Manitoba's special advisor on aboriginal women's issues and a community leader.
Despite these sticking points, Stefanson disputes that Manitoba is last to officially commit to the inquiry.
"I think there's been many provinces … that have not yet completed that process," she said, declining to name any in particular.
Meanwhile, Bennett said in a speech to the chiefs this week the federal government was "very close" to announcing the launch of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, but did not give a date.
with files from Susana Mas, Meagan Fiddler and Alana Cole