A year after MMIWG inquiry's final report, Manitoba advocates say they're disappointed by lack of progress
Families, advocates say they've heard 'nothing' from different levels of government
Some of those who testified during the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, or worked for the commission, say they've heard "little to nothing" from different levels of government since the final report was published almost one year ago.
"The longer you see little to no action, it becomes very disheartening," said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, co-chair of the Manitoba MMIWG Coalition and one of the people who testified during the inquiry.
"You begin to wonder if this is just another report that's going to be collecting dust on a shelf."
The final report, published on June 3, 2019, outlines 231 calls for justice — recommendations to government and all Canadians that outline how cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people should be handled, or could be prevented.
"I basically have heard little to nothing," Anderson-Pyrz of the communication since from all levels of government.
Her sister's body was found in the snow in Leaf Rapids, Man., in 2011.
The official cause of Dawn Anderson's death was exposure due to intoxication, but the family doesn't believe that, since her body was covered in bruises. Anderson-Pyrz and her family testified when the inquiry was in Thompson, Man., in 2018.
The inquiry came to Manitoba several times, including four hearings in Winnipeg, one in Thompson and a community visit to Sagkeeng First Nation. More than 100 Manitoba family members and survivors testified, sharing their stories.
As the MMIWG liaison for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak — the political advocacy group that represents more than two dozen northern Manitoba member communities — Anderson-Pyrz's job is to work with families like those who testified.
She says they're worried their testimony was for nothing.
"They wonder 'is my loved one's story not valued?'" she said.
"I shared my truth in the hopes for creating change, to create a better tomorrow for Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit and gender-diverse people. Are the governments listening?"
National action plan delayed
One of the main promises the federal government made was to create a national action plan on MMIWG. On Tuesday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told CBC News that Ottawa is delaying the release of that plan, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The inquiry's former chief commissioner, Marion Buller, told CBC News while the government is right to focus on the safety of all Canadians during the pandemic, the country can't forget about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
"They're still going missing. They're still dying. They're still being murdered," said Buller, who is also a retired British Columbia court judge.
"The genocide continues."
Buller said she only heard from the federal government about the plan for the first time last week when Minister Bennett called her to discuss the progress. Buller said she was expecting more consultation throughout the year.
"Regardless of what your organization is, if people can't access it in a very transparent way … it's very difficult and doesn't lead to trust. It leads to mistrust and distrust."
Winnipeg police review training materials
In October 2018, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth addressed the inquiry while in St. John's, apologizing for how the police force handled MMIWG cases in the past. He also outlined a way forward.
All WPS training material for cadets and officers has been reviewed since the inquiry's final report "without issues of note," according to Kelly Dehn, manager of public affairs for the police service.
It is also trying to add a trauma-informed course for front-line members and investigators, he said.
WATCH | Winnipeg Police Service's Oct. 18, 2018, apology for past conduct:
The inquiry's final report includes an entire section of recommendations for the justice system, such as dedicating funding to Indigenous policing services, re-evaluating mandatory minimum sentences with regard to MMIWG cases, and developing holistic approaches to support Indigenous victims, their friends and families.
In an email, a Manitoba Justice spokesperson outlined several provincial initiatives to support Indigenous peoples through the system, including three separate funding agreements specifically for Indigenous policing.
The email also says the province has a community-focused victim services branch, including four family liaison contacts to support families of MMIWG — two positioned with police, and two within the community.
The province says it has also educated Crown attorneys to "consider the increased vulnerability of female persons who are victims, giving particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal female victims," when it comes to mandatory minimum sentences.
The province could not provide any details about specific programs that have started since the inquiry's final report was published, but says working to end violence against Indigenous women and girls is a priority.
The province said it's working on a plan to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the inquiry's final report.
Sandra DeLaronde said she hasn't been asked to collaborate on anything MMIWG-related with the province in the past year.
That's disappointing, says the co-chair of the Manitoba MMIWG Coalition, since "events in Manitoba were kind of the catalyst for the implementation of the inquiry," she said, in reference to the killing of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine in 2014, which spurred calls for the inquiry.
"There are measures that could be put in place for those that are targeted to violence, such as 24/7 safe spaces, or support for women and girls who encounter harassment," said DeLaronde.
"Those things can be immediate, but our long-term transformational change may take generations."
WATCH | A look back at the MMIWG inquiry from June 1, 2019:
If you or someone you know needs immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. This is a national, toll-free 24/7 crisis call line providing support for anyone who requires emotional assistance related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling and community-based cultural services through Indigenous Services Canada.
With files from Olivia Stefanovich