Drive to include men in MMIW inquiry undermined by association with controversial men's rights group

A new coalition that wants the MMIW inquiry to study cases of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys has aligned itself with a controversial men’s rights group.

Coalition that wants men and boys included is aligned with controversial men’s rights group

A new coalition called Expand the Inquiry wants violence against men and boys included in the MMIW inquiry. Its use of statistics downplays the violence inflicted on Indigenous women. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Last week, a new coalition called Expand the Inquiry met with federal officials to argue for the need to expand the terms and scope of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women to include men and boys.

The coalition's leader, Chief Ernie Crey of Cheam First Nation in British Columbia, became an advocate for Indigenous women after his sister, Dawn Crey, was killed by Robert Pickton.

Crey said he refocused his attention after hearing from families across the country about the lack of advocacy for missing and murdered Indigenous men.

Chief Ernie Crey of Expand the Inquiry says his group didn't research the previous campaigns of the Canadian Association for Equality before joining forces. (CBC )

His coalition argues that because 70 per cent of murdered Indigenous people are men, they should be included in the inquiry.

But that statistic doesn't change the fact that Indigenous women face a significantly higher rate of violent victimization than men, including physical and sexual assault.

And it doesn't change the fact the MMIW inquiry was created to explain why Indigenous women are targeted and find ways to stop it.

Those explanations and solutions would be much different in the case of violence against Indigenous men and boys. 

What stands out most about the Expand the Inquiry coalition is that it has aligned itself with the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) — one of the loudest and most controversial voices in so-called men's rights activism.

The group has been accused of trying to spread misleading information about domestic violence, including with a billboard ad in Toronto last year that suggested men are as likely as women to be victims.

The Canadian Association for Equality put up this billboard ad in Toronto in 2015. (CBC)

Crey admits Expand the Inquiry didn't vet CAFE.

"They were the group that came forward, and said can we join forces … I haven't delved into their history, their campaigns or issues they've involved themselves in," Crey said.

"I would be the last one to say that everyone and anyone I've ever worked with can be painted lily white … without blemish."

'Many, many inquiries'

CAFE spokesman Justin Trottier says the stories of missing and murdered men should be included in the inquiry because violence against Indigenous women has already been extensively studied.

"We've had many, many inquiries into murdered and missing girls and women; this isn't the first one," he said.

That's simply not true.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry examined the disappearances of women along B.C.'s Highway of Tears. (Wikimedia)

In 2010, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in B.C. examined the disappearances of women along the Highway of Tears, a stretch between Prince Rupert and Prince George, but didn't specifically examine the unique circumstances of Indigenous women who'd gone missing or been murdered.

Neither has any other federal or provincial inquiry.

Domestic violence statistics

Expand the Inquiry's argument relies on the same de-contextualized piece of data that CAFE used for its billboard. 

"So-called gender based violence, or domestic violence is [thought to be] something that men perpetrate on women," Trottier told CBC News. "And actually when we do the research we find that both men and women experience domestic violence at comparable rates."

That rate is four per cent, according to a Statistics Canada survey — as opposed to statistics in the same report based on police data.

But of those men and women who said they were abused, the women were twice as likely to have experienced the most violent forms of spousal abuse, including being sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a gun or knife.

Plus, the violence against Indigenous women the inquiry was created to study extends far beyond the home.

A 2016 Statistics Canada report found Indigenous women experience double the rate of violent victimization of Indigenous men. And triple that of non-Indigenous women.

The disparity is clear. Explaining it is complicated, which is why the inquiry is focused on women.

They were the group that came forward, and said can we join forces … I haven't delved into their history, their campaigns or issues they've involved themselves in.- Chief Ernie Crey, Expand the Inquiry

But stats aside, Trottier says the inquiry is starting out with problematic assumptions about the nature of violence against Indigenous people.

"If this is a sincere effort to understand the root cause of violence in Indigenous communities … then I don't think we should go in already decided that the problem is one of solely violence against women," Trottier said. "It might actually be issues that affect both men and women."

Terms of inquiry are broad

He says Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has said the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys could be included in the inquiry.

"The terms of the inquiry are broad enough, that if the commissioners wanted they could include hearings where families would talk about missing and murdered sons, husbands [and] male loved ones," Trottier said.

Still, there's disagreement within the coalition about whether the inquiry's terms need to be changed.

Commissioners, from left, Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women back in August. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Trottier says yes, but Crey says he's optimistic families of missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys will be allowed to share their stories.

"What I'm trying to do in my advocacy work is to try to reach out to these families and say … 'Please go to the inquiry, and share your story.' I don't think these families will be turned away," Crey said.

Their stories deserve to be told, but the question is whether splitting the focus of this particular inquiry is a useful idea.

The statistics would suggest the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls got its name for a reason.