Manitoba

Launch of MMIW inquiry 'surreal,' NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine says

Canada's inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls launched Wednesday morning, and for Manitoba NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine, the kickoff came with an element of disbelief and brought on a wave of mixed feelings.

Federal government officially launches inquiry, names 5-member commission led by Indigenous judge

The national inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women will examine the role of police forces, governments and child and family services. A concern many had before today's announcement. The NDP's Provincial Critic for Missing and Murdered Indigenous says some families have waited decades for this day. 0:38

Canada's inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls launched Wednesday morning, and for Manitoba NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine, the kickoff came with an element of disbelief and brought on a wave of mixed feelings.

"In some respects it's almost surreal that this day is actually here," Fontaine, Opposition critic for missing and murdered Indigenous women, told CBC News in Winnipeg Thursday morning, pausing at times to collect herself. "I personally am just filled with so many emotions. It's been a long journey."

The member of the legislative assembly for St. Johns said families of missing and murdered Indigenous women have waited a long time for action from the federal government, and now they could be closer to finding answers to why Indigenous women have been disappearing at such disproportionate rates in Canada.

"I remind everybody that this journey for some families started 30 years ago, so for today to actually occur is first and foremost a testament of families' resiliency and determination and courage," Fontaine said.

"I know the immense hurt and trauma that they are going through every single day. It just doesn't end. And yet through that pain and that trauma, they have found just enormous amounts of strength and love that have brought us to where we are today."​

More than 1,000 Indigenous women were killed from 1980 to 2012, and 169 more were listed as missing.

'It's all just a scam'

While the launch of the inquiry is considered good news by many, Kyle Kematch said he still has strong reservations.

"It's all just a scam in my eyes, but I could be wrong," Kematch said. "Right from the beginning I was never for the inquiry, but other families are, so that's why I will stand behind them."
Kyle Kematch sets out on Drag the Red's new boat on July 18, 2016. (CBC)

Kematch's sister Amber Guiboche went missing in November 2011. He and others have been combing the bottom of the Red River with large hooks dangled off the backs of boats since 2015 as part of Drag the Red, an initiative dedicated to finding evidence that could help solve cases of missing or murdered people.

Kematch said in order for families to really feel supported, the federal government needs to fund and facilitate grassroots search efforts.

Kyle Kematch is the brother of Amber Guiboche who went missing in November 2010. He helps other families by searching the Red River with Drag the Red. Kematch says the millions spent on the national inquiry would be better spent on resources for families. 0:44
"It's very emotional and very costly. I believe when it comes to stuff like that, they need to step up to the plate big time and show [families] that they really do care," Kematch said. "If you've got people who are willing to search, then you should let that happen. Everyone deserves to go home … everybody deserves their answers."

At the launch of the inquiry on Thursday, the government announced $16.17 million in funding will go to provinces and territories so they can develop family information liaison units and provide culturally appropriate victim services.

Manitoba absent from panel

The inquiry will be led by British Columbia's first female Indigenous judge. All five commissioners are Indigenous and four out of five are women. No one from Manitoba was selected.

"I'm glad to see, and it was something that we've been advocating for many, many years, that it would be Indigenous led, and that more particularly that it would be led by Indigenous women," Fontaine said.

From the beginning, the demand to look into the issue came from the Indigenous community and families who were supported by Indigenous women, Fontaine said. That has been reflected in the commissioners selected, she said, adding she is confident they "fundamentally understand the sacredness of their role" and will represent all voices adequately across the board.

If we're not happy with what is happening, of course we will sound our voices and make our voices heard.- Hilda Anderson-Pyrz

"It would've been nice to see somebody from Manitoba, but that doesn't mean that the work here in Manitoba would stop, or that the supports that we have for families would stop," Fontaine said.

"Having worked on this for the last 18 years, my work and my support for families won't stop just because I'm not named as a commissioner or somebody else isn't named as a commissioner. We will still here in Manitoba support families through this process."

Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the province wants to focus on results "to make sure that the inquiry results in some actionable items."

"We want to ensure also, for Manitoba, we have a unique perspective," she said.

Stefanson said Manitoba has had a number of inquiries that have resulted in action and the province wants to make sure there is no overlap with the national inquiry.

"We will cooperate fully," she said.

Police and MMIW

A preview of the inquiry mandate prompted criticism from advocates ahead of the launch, who noted the role police and government child and family welfare groups play in MMIW cases was conspicuously missing from the guiding documents.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has said a national inquiry would review 'the uneven application of justice,' including police conduct. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In July, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told the Canadian Press that the "uneven application of justice" — from the quality of police searches to investigations — should be reviewed as part of the inquiry, as results of cases appear to be influenced by whether victims are Indigenous women or girls.

"The behaviours of police institutions toward families, toward Indigenous women, that narrative has always been a part of families' work and Indigenous women's work at bringing this issue forward," Fontaine said.

"I think it's fundamentally needed and required that we look at policing practice and behaviours and policies in order for this national inquiry to be successful, because if we didn't, there's this whole other piece that would have been missing."

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, president of the Families First Foundation, said she is hopeful the inquiry will bring closure to families. Still, officials involved with conducting the inquiry will be under a microscope, she said.

"Our leadership, our families and various advocates who will be watching what is happening and keep the commissioners, as well as the federal government, on their toes," Anderson-Pyrz said. 

"If we're not happy with what is happening, of course we will sound our voices and make our voices heard."

The inquiry is scheduled to run from Sept. 1, 2016, to  Dec. 31, 2018, and will cost an estimated $53.8 million.

While police are not mandated right into the terms of reference of the inquiry, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett promised systemic issues in police forces will be examined. A complaint many Manitoba families have. CBC's Jillian Taylor has been speaking with them today and joins us now with their reactions. 2:00

With files from Catharine Tunney and Kathleen Harris