National MMIW inquiry's first hearings will be in Whitehorse

​'We want to hear what people want to share with us,' said Qajaq Robinson, one of five commissioners appointed last year to head up the inquiry. The first family hearings will happen in Whitehorse during the week of May 29.

Family hearings will be preceded by 3-day advisory meetings, to gather advice on local issues and culture

From left, Commissioners Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women will holds its first hearings later this spring, beginning in Whitehorse.

The hearings are for families and will allow family members to share their stories with the commission.

"We want to hear what people want to share with us," said Qajaq Robinson, one of five commissioners appointed last year to head up the inquiry.

"A lot of families and survivors of violence have not been able to share their experiences and their stories. And we want to make sure that they have that opportunity to do so."

The dates and locations have not been confirmed, but a news release from the inquiry says the Whitehorse hearings will take place during the week of May 29.

"It is our goal to go where we are welcomed," Robinson said. "Whitehorse was a good place to start."

Jeanie Dendys, Yukon's minister responsible for the status of women, says she's pleased Yukon will be first, "to set the tone for the rest of Canada."

"We're not sure what the hearings will look like at this time, but we've heard from the families, we know what their expectations are," she said.

"We're going to do everything that we can to make this a success."

The inquiry was called last summer, making good on a 2015 campaign promise made by the Liberals. Some have already voiced frustration with the inquiry, citing long delays, the limited engagement of families, and the fact that it hasn't begun recording testimonies yet.

Advisory meetings continue

A series of "regional advisory meetings" are being held across the country in the lead up to the hearings. They're intended to give the inquiry commissioners advice on how to effectively gather testimony in each specific location.

Robinson says the meetings will help commissioners decide "what is the proper format, what protocols, what steps need to be taken to make sure that that process is safe and comfortable and secure.

"It is our hope that in each of the communities and regions that we visit, that the hearings don't look exactly the same — that they reflect the land and the people and the customs of where we have been welcomed."

The advisory meetings are part of the mandate spelled out in the inquiry's terms of reference. Some have already been held in Quebec, Ontario and B.C.

The inquiry will spend three days in each location meeting with families and local organizations, to gather advice on local issues and culture that may inform the hearings.  

The Whitehorse advisory meetings will be held April 11, 12 and 13. Other regional advisory meetings have been announced for Edmonton and Thunder Bay in April, and Halifax, Winnipeg, Northern B.C. and Saskatoon in May.