Inquiry should use its powers to fact-find for families of missing and murdered women, advocates say

After observing last week's hearings in Montreal, the head of Quebec Native Women says the inquiry isn't doing enough to ensure families have all available information about their cases before sharing their stories.

Quebec Native Women wants hearings put on hold for 5 months while changes made

Viviane Michel, the president of Quebec Native Women, wants the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to make changes. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

The federal inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls needs to do a better job at gathering information for families before they testify, says a prominent voice for Indigenous women in Quebec.

After observing last week's hearings in Montreal, Viviane Michel, the head of Quebec Native Women, says the inquiry should be put on hold until it makes the necessary changes. 

Michel told a news conference Monday the inquiry should use its powers to obtain coroner reports, police reports and autopsy results ahead of time so families have a better understanding of the facts.

Doing so, she said, would make it easier to hold authorities accountable.

"We want justice to be done," she said.

Michel said the inquiry should take five months to reorganize before resuming hearings.

The inquiry, which has been beset by controversy, recently sought a two-year extension to its mandate, until the end of 2020.

Michel said she supports the request for an extension — but only if changes are made to better support those testifying.

A spokesperson for the inquiry declined to comment Monday.

Families need more info, lawyer says

Éric Lépine, a lawyer working for Quebec Native Women, pointed to the case of a woman who testified last week about her sister, who died in Montreal in the 1990s.

More from the Montreal hearings:

She only obtained the coroner's report into her sister's death a day before speaking, through the assistance of a friend.

The report contained information that changed her understanding of what happened to her sister, Lépine said.

Had she been given a copy earlier, she would have had a better idea of what she wanted to tell the inquiry, he said.

"We believe that the witnesses have the right to be fully heard, with all the information made available to them," he said.

Given the lack of details in some witnesses' testimony, Lépine also raised concerns about the inquiry's ability to follow through on what happened in its second phase, at which time it will seek answers from authorities.

Commissioner Michèle​ Audette maintains the inquiry will 'enhance' the quality of life of Indigenous people. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Last week, MMIWG Commissioner Michèle​ Audette said the initial focus on survivors and families would allow the inquiry to hold government accountable.

"I'm very satisfied by the work we've been doing. It wasn't easy. I won't lie to you. It's an approach that we took collectively," she said.

"This inquiry, on a personal level, I believe that it's a tool that will help us enhance our quality of life."