MMIW national inquiry to focus on violence prevention not police investigations

The upcoming national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women will focus on violence prevention, according to a draft document obtained by CBC News.

Draft copy of terms of reference directs commissioners not to interfere with ongoing criminal probes

The federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada will focus on violence prevention, according to a draft document obtained by CBC News. (Don Somers/CBC)

The upcoming national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women will focus on violence prevention, according to a draft document obtained by CBC News.

A draft of the terms of reference says commissioners will be given the broad mandate to identify systemic causes of violence and recommend "concrete action" to help end violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Five commissioners, including a chief commissioner, will be named, but the document does not identify them. The draft also does not include specifics about timing or length of inquiry. 

Similar to the recent Truth and Reconciliation commission, the inquiry — its start date has yet to be specified — will aim to hear from the people directly affected.

Commissioners will be given a mandate to support the inclusion of "any person having substantial interest" in the process.

It will travel to Indigenous communities across the country to gather statements in what is described as an "informal" and "culturally sensitive" probe. 

Testimony from community members and families of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls appears to be central to process of identifying causes contributing to the disproportionate rates of violence experienced by Aboriginal women in Canada.

Probe into police conduct not specified

In the government's pre-inquiry consultations in 17 communities earlier this year, families of the more than 1,200 missing or murdered indigenous women were given the opportunity to share their opinions.

Families urged the government to choose an Indigenous woman to lead the inquiry and to focus on identifying root causes.

At every consultation, the ministers were urged to look into police conduct and practices during criminal investigations of missing or murdered women. Some families alleged discrimination or misconduct by police during pre-inquiry consultations. 

Many of the recommendations from families and stakeholders appear to have shaped the mandate of the inquiry.

But while the role of police or police conduct was flagged as something that should be a priority for examination during the inquiry, in the draft document, there is no specific directive to look into that.

A senior government official sent CBC News a statement that said although there is no specific reference: "The draft Terms of Reference make clear that the commission will be mandated to look at all underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, which includes policing."

Christa Big Canoe is a lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto. She says families may be confused about the role of police conduct after reading the draft document. 

"One of the big things that families were concerned with were the investigations and the conduct of the investigations. So one of my clients would tell me they think that it is missing."

"At the same time I think there is enough leeway within the broad terms depending on who the chief commissioner or any of the commissioners are there's opportunities to actually look into some of the particular investigations or conduct but it's not as clear or tightly written as other inquiries have been." 

The document also directs commissioners not to interfere with ongoing criminal investigations and discourages them from recommending civil or criminal liability of a person or organization.

Commissioners are encouraged to give weight to previous studies such as the TRC final report, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, as well as five other reports specifically relating to violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson released a statement about the document. She said, "The Terms of Reference do not go far enough in scope to look specifically at the effects indifferent or ineffective policing has had on families."

The release continued, saying it's important to remind, "the ministers that the families have carried the burden of the issue for too long and that we as governments and leaders now have to do our part to see justice and answers for the affected families and friends."

Inquiry details delayed

Details about the scope and mandate of the national inquiry has been long anticipated by families of victims.

The Liberal government announced Phase 1 of a national inquiry shortly after it took office last December.

In June, Status of Women Minister Patty Hadju told CBC News the government was "very close" to making an announcement about Phase 2 of the national inquiry.

"I think Canadians can be confident that, before the House rises, we'll have something to tell them about how this is going to look."

Five weeks later, families of missing and murdered women are still waiting for official confirmation of next steps of the inquiry.

Ottawa is in ongoing negotiations with the provinces and territories about terms of reference.

The federal budget has committed $40 million over two years for the inquiry.