Manitoba families want national MMIWG inquiry commissioners replaced, regional inquiry created
Advocates and families of missing and murdered females say they have lost confidence in the process
A coalition of Manitoba families says the commissioners on the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have become ineffective and must resign.
"The national inquiry has stalled and Manitoba families of MMIWG and survivors have lost confidence in the process," said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, a coalition co-chair.
The group says new commissioners who will listen more to the families are needed.
"The national inquiry, in its current form, is not hearing the voices of and is not inviting the consultation of people in the regions," said Sandra Delaronde, another one of the coalition co-chairs.
"Or, if it invites it, it's not listening."
Delaronde and Anderson-Pyrz say families don't want the inquiry tossed aside but believe it needs to ensure families are heard and concerns are addressed.
"Families and survivors agreed that the status quo cannot continue," Anderson-Pyrz said.
The members of the coalition,which held a news conference Wednesday, couldn't provide a number on how many families they represent.
"We have a number of families that we engage with here in Winnipeg and the North," said Angie Hutchinson.
She, Delaronde and Anderson-Pyrz were backed by a handful of supporters during the news conference, including NDP MLA Bernadette Smith, whose sister, Claudette Osborne, went missing from Winnipeg in 2008.
"I guess I'm wearing two hats here, as a family member but at the same time I'm here as MLA because I support Manitoba families and want to make sure their voices are being heard," she said.
The coalition said it intends to write a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting commissioners be appointed to lead a Manitoba-based inquiry.
That person would be recommended by the grassroots — the families and people within the Indigenous community — and conduct their work with respect to MMIWG families and survivors, Indigenous legal customs, traditional traditions and protocols, the coalition said.
"Within the current terms of reference, the PM can, will and should appoint an Indigenous woman from Manitoba and that person would work with and be guided by families in Manitoba," Delaronde said.
Although the process would be regional in scope, its findings would form part of the national inquiry, she added.
The regional inquiry would allow for more immediate action on recommendations, not be grounded down in delays as has been the case with the national process, said Anderson-Pyrz.
"We know that there are many existing recommendations and reports collecting dust and idling while Indigenous women continue to go missing and be murdered," she said.
"Families have a lot of questions about their loved ones and their individual cases, which requires answers and accountability from agencies and departments, such as the justice system, Winnipeg Police Service, the RCMP and CFS. A process must be created to address these questions."
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The coalition's news conference comes one day after the sudden resignation of commissioner Marilyn Poitras and less than two weeks after the commission's executive director, Michele Moreau, announced her resignation.
Before that, three other prominent inquiry staff members also resigned in June: Chantale Courcy, director of operations; Sue Montgomery, director of communications; and Tanya Kappo, manager of community relations.
"You see key people leaving and most recently a commissioner," said Anderson-Pyrz.
"It doesn't give you a lot of reassurance that, you know, this inquiry is a good thing for you to participate in and that your loved one's story would be treated as something sacred."
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Poitras cited issues with the "current structure" of the inquiry as the reason for her decision. She said when she began work on the inquiry she had "imagined the chance to put Indigenous process first; to seek out and rely on Indigenous laws and protocols."
However, she now feels too many people involved in the inquiry do not share that vision, she said in a statement.
Poitras, who is Métis, said a "status quo colonial model" of hearings seems to be the path that most commissioners prefer.
Anderson-Pyrz and Delaronde say their group agrees with Poitras on the need for an Indigenous-designed and Indigenous-led process.
"We're not saying scrap the inquiry. We recognize that the Indigenous women and girls, two-spirited people need a voice," Delaronde said.
"We've fought for this for a long time — for some people, a lifetime. But we want it to work for those voices. We don't want it to be following a western bureaucratic model, because we know those models don't work."
Earlier this month, Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak — a group representing more than 30 northern Manitoba First Nations — also said the inquiry's chief commissioner, Marion Buller, needs to step down to give the probe a new beginning.
"Be brave and resign," Delaronde said, sending a direct message to the current inquiry commissioners.
"Step down and allow people that are at a grassroots level and supported by families to be the commissioners and lead this national inquiry to actually respond to the voices of family members and survivors."
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Asked what they will do if the current commissioners don't resign and Trudeau doesn't appoint a regional commissioner, Hutchinson said the coalition will "continue to push to ensure that family members voices and survivors continue to be heard.
"That's the essential part of this process. This process is about hearing about families and survivors and coming forward with actionable recommendations so that we can start to make changes so that indigenous girls are not experiencing the current levels of violence they are."
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With files from The Canadian Press