Manitoba

Manitoba MMIWG advocates call for action after national inquiry given 6-month extension

Manitoba advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls expressed mixed feelings Tuesday after learning the national inquiry looking into the issue was given a six-month extension.

'A better tomorrow for our Indigenous women and girls' depends on immediate funding, advocate says

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was given a six-month extension Tuesday to complete its mandate. (CBC)

Manitoba advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls expressed mixed feelings Tuesday after learning the national inquiry looking into the issue was given a six-month extension.

Indigenous advocate Leah Gazan said she's long since lost confidence in the inquiry and believes money would be better spent directly supporting Indigenous communities and families.

Others, though, hold out hope the inquiry will be a healing experience, at least for some families.

The advocacy group Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak described the inquiry as "bungled" and said in a Tuesday news release that "granting the commissioners more time does not seem to be a good use of resources."

"Instead of granting an extension for the bungled inquiry, it's time to see resources directed to supporting families and survivors affected by the issues around MMIWG," MKO Grand Chief Sheila North said in the statement.

After months of controversy and numerous personnel changes, the national inquiry — originally scheduled to submit its final report Nov. 1 of this year — now has until April 30, 2019 to complete it.

'Critical time'

In a written statement, inquiry commissioner Michèle Audette said Tuesday she was deeply disappointed by the six-month extension and was contemplating leaving the commission.

The inquiry had asked for an extra two years as well as an additional $50 million dollars to complete its mandate to uncover the systemic issues behind violence against Indigenous girls and women.

The federal government made no promises Tuesday to earmark additional money for the inquiry. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett did commit, however, to an additional $27 million for MMIWG support services, as well as $9.6 million for the RCMP, in part to help fund MMIWG investigations.

Ottawa is also spending $10 million to create an MMIWG commemorative fund.

'Money needs to be committed toward creating a better tomorrow for our Indigenous women and girls immediately,' says Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, co-chair of the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Coalition. (CBC)

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, co-chair of the Manitoba Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Coalition, said this juncture is a "critical time" for the issue in Canada.

"Money needs to be committed toward creating a better tomorrow for our Indigenous women and girls immediately," she said.

"What I've heard a lot is that housing is very important — meeting the very basic human rights of our women and girls."

Some Manitoba families told Anderson-Pyrz that testifying at the national inquiry was helpful for their healing, she said, while others say they were re-victimized by the process. Anderson-Pyrz believes a lack of aftercare plans, established by families before their testimony, is in part to blame. 

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine hugs one of the family members at a missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls commemoration at the Manitoba Legislature. Fontaine argues the national inquiry into the issue was doomed to fail from the start because it was given too short a time frame. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

"At MKO we are still getting complaints about the lack of proper aftercare services offered to families and survivors who have testified," Grand Chief North said in Tuesday's media release.

A lack of supports for families and survivors who contributed to the inquiry was raised by the other three advocates CBC spoke with Tuesday.

"One of the consistent concerns that have been voiced and echoed across the country from coast to coast to coast from MMIWG families has been the aftercare," said Nahanni Fontaine, a Manitoba NDP MLA and an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

She believes that is due, in part, to the national inquiry's original timeline. Two years was never enough time to do the inquiry properly, said Fontaine.

Leah Gazan says she has long since lost confidence in the national inquiry, 'particularly seeing the way that a lot of the persons that are testifying and families that were involved in it were being treated.' (Warren Kay/CBC)

In comparison, the inquiry into the death of Manitoba girl Phoenix Sinclair spent 18 months doing groundwork before it begin its work, said Fontaine.

"But here's the Liberal government thinking that you're going to set up the infrastructure, staff, research, timetables and aftercare for MMIWG families within two years. It is simply undoable."

Gazan, an education instructor at the University of Winnipeg, said the six-month extension does nothing to abate her concerns around an inquiry she has lost confidence in.

"That happened for me some time ago, particularly seeing the way that a lot of the persons that are testifying and families that were involved in it were being treated," said Gazan.

She, along with Anderson-Pyrz, argue any additional money earmarked for the inquiry at this point would be better off going to more immediate concerns facing Indigenous women and girls, like creating better, more affordable housing.

With files from Jorge Barrera

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