Montreal

As MMIWG inquiry moves to Quebec, families call for hearings in Montreal

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is making its only planned stop in Quebec at the Innu First Nation of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam on the province's North Shore.

Commissioners will be on Quebec's North Shore starting on Monday

Johnny Wylde and Emily Ruperthouse Wylde have been searching for their daughter, Sindy Ruperthouse, for more than three years. (CBC News)

Some Quebec families say they are being left in the dark as the public hearings of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls open on Monday in the Quebec Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam.

The location near Sept-Îles, on the province's North Shore, is a seven-hour flight, or a 1,300-kilometre drive, from the home of Johnny Wylde and Emily Ruperthouse Wylde.

The couple, who lives in Pikogan, near Val-d'Or, have been been looking for their daughter Sindy for more than three years.

She was last seen leaving a hospital in Val-d'Or in April 2014, after being admitted with serious injuries. 

A billboard with the photo of Sindy Ruperthouse outside her hometown of Pikogan, Que., 75 kilometres north of Val-d'Or, where she was last seen in April 2014. (Julia Page/CBC)

Wylde said the trip is just too long, and he'd prefer waiting until a date in Montreal is confirmed so he can attend with the support of his family.

"I want to share my story. I want everybody to know what's going on for real. But I'll be there if it's Montreal," said Wylde, from his office in Pikogan, about 75 kilometres north of Val-d'Or.

"There are going to more women. We can't forget that," Wylde said.

Wylde said a staff member with the inquiry told him hearings would be held in Montreal eventually. 

Getting any concrete information or possible dates has been difficult, leaving families confused and frustrated, according to Verna Polson, the grand chief of the Algonquin-Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council.

Polson said she was also told by a commissioner there would indeed be a stop in Montreal, although the exact dates have yet to be confirmed. She said not knowing what's going to happen next is adding to their frustration.

Verna Polson, grand chief of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, says the two-year mandate is not long enough. (Viens inquiry)

"Families are going through a lot," Polson said, as reports of the testimonies are being shared across the country.

"A two-year mandate for these commissioners isn't long enough. It's not long enough for the families who are directly affected.''

When contacted by CBC, the inquiry could not confirm if a hearing was going to take place in Montreal, other than providing the dates that have already been scheduled for 2017.

"Once a schedule is developed for the new year we will post to our website," the inquiry told CBC in an email.

On Thursday, it was announced the hearings in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, scheduled for Dec. 11, were being postponed due to space and privacy concerns.

'We need to know what's going wrong'

Improving access to information and to support systems will be crucial as the commission moves forward, said Viviane Michel, the president of Native Women Quebec (NWQ).

"You have to plan for a safety net for the families before, during and after the hearings. You can't just shake them up and move on," said Michel. "If there is a second phase it should happen in Montreal." 

MMIWG commissioner Michèle Audette is originally from the community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The organization, based in Kahnawake, Que., had initially asked the commission to hold the hearings in the city, which is nearby.

"It would have been the best place, because it's at the centre of all the Nations around Quebec," Michel said, who will nonetheless be in Mani-Utenam (also known as Maliotenam) for the entire length of the hearings.

"For NWQ, it's very important to hear these people, these women, because we need to know what's going wrong,'' Michel said.

In addition to hearing cases of missing and murdered women and girls, Michel hopes the inquiry will pay close attention to the ongoing violence Indigenous women face in their communities.

Quebec at a crossroads 

The national inquiry is happening at the same time as Quebec's two-year investigation of how Indigenous people are treated by police and social services.

The province was pressured into action after Indigenous women in Val-d'Or alleged abusive behaviour at the hands of police officers.

Women in Val-d'Or express their disappointment after finding out the investigation into allegations of abuse by police officers would not lead to any criminal charges, in Nov. 2016. (Julia Page/CBC)

Thirty-eight files ended up in the hands of Montreal police, who conducted the investigation. The Crown ruled there was insufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing in most cases, except for two retired police officers in Schefferville.

Both Alain Juneau, of the Quebec provincial police, and Jean-Luc Vollant, of Schefferville's Indigenous police force, were charged for sex-related crimes.

Juneau, accused in connection with events alleged to have occurred in the 1990s, committed suicide days before his preliminary hearing at the beginning of this year.

Vollant's preliminary hearing was been postponed twice already and is set to take place on Jan. 12.

Improving living conditions in host community

Jonathan Pinette-Grégoire, executive director of the Native Friendship Centre in Sept-Îles, hopes the inquiry's recommendations will be taken seriously by governments and lead to actual change for people living in the community.

A coroner's report investigated five suicides in the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam. (Radio-Canada)

Uashat mak Mani-Utenam was devastated by a string of five suicides over a nine-month period in 2015.

The province of Quebec tasked coroner Bernard Lefrançois to investigate the deaths. His report took a critical look at the way Indigenous affairs are handled in Quebec and Canada.

Pinette-Grégoire said by putting these issues on paper he hopes to see solutions emerge.

"Life for Indigenous women here is hard. People know the quality of life isn't the same as the rest of the population," he said.

"We hope the governments will follow these recommendations and that organizations will have the resources they need."

Meanwhile Johnny Wylde said he continues to search for clues on his daughter Sindy's disappearance with support from his community.

"I don't wait for anyone anyway. They're not going to find my daughter. I'm going to find her, I'm still looking for her.''


Follow our CBC reporters Elias Abboud @eliabb and Julia Page @JuliaBPage, who will be at the inquiry in Uashat mak Mani-Utenam all week

About the Author

Julia Page

Journalist

Julia Page is a radio and online journalist with CBC News, based in Quebec City.