Families want MMIWG inquiry extension

On the day the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls released an interim report calling for the creation of a special police task for to handle unresolved investigations it heard from two families dealing with an unsolved death and a two decades-long missing persons case.

Inquiry hears testimony from loved ones still searching for answers after disappearances, deaths

The family of Virginia Pictou-Noyes testifies before the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls on the Membertou First Nation on Wednesday. Pictured right to left are: her father Robert Pictou, brother Francis Pictou, brother Robert Pictou, and her sister Agnes Gould. (Nick Maloney/CBC)

On the day the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls released an interim report calling for the creation of a special police task to handle unresolved investigations, it heard from two families dealing with an unsolved killing and a two-decades long missing persons case.

The families of Victoria Pictou-Noyes, who disappeared in 1993, and Tanya Brooks, who was killed in 2009 and whose death is still unsolved, testified on the last day of hearings on Wednesday on the Membertou First Nation, near Sydney, N.S. The inquiry heard from about 60 witnesses during three days.

We've already been screwed enough.— Vanessa Brooks

The inquiry released several recommendations in its report, including calls for First Nations child welfare reform, the creation of a commemorative fund for the families of the missing and murdered, and more health support funding for families who want to testify.

"I think they are really honest recommendations that need to be put forth in order for the inquiry to do its job," said Vanessa Brooks, Tanya Brooks' sister, in an interview with CBC News.

Brooks still has many questions about the handling of her sister's case and believes there are leads that can point to the killer or killers. She said the task force and police forces in general need to be "more culturally sensitive."

Membertou First Nation member Danny Paul, who testified earlier this week about his step-daughter Michelle Ginnish's 2004 death, said officers who work on the task force should be carefully screened.

Some officers may be responsible for some of the disappearances, he says. But he also believes the task force should investigate a case "until it's exhausted, so it allows families to have closure."

Vanessa Brooks, left, testifies before the inquiry while Commissioner Qajaq Robinson listens. (CBC)

Brooks welcomed Commissioner Marion Buller's request the federal Liberal government give the inquiry more time to do its work. The inquiry's current mandate ends on Dec. 20, 2018.

"We need that extension and I would be disappointed if it doesn't come through," said Brooks. "Cutting them short means you are screwing us and we've already been screwed enough."

The inquiry's call for the government to overhaul the on-reserve child welfare system — as called for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in a 2016 ruling — is long overdue, she added. 

"That is one of the systemic breakdowns right now," she said. "Our children are already feeling failure long before they have a chance to succeed."

Bounty on her head

During her testimony Wednesday, Brooks said she and her sister were both put into foster care when they were growing up and both had run-ins with child and family services as mothers. She said Tanya, from Millbrook First Nation, lost all five of her children to foster care and that set her on a path from which she would never return.

"She didn't have her kids. It was one of the things that made her, the one thing she was searching so ferociously for," said Vanessa. "And when you took those kids away from here, you took her whole reason for wanting to live, away."

Brooks said during her testimony that her sister was beaten to the edge of death with a steel pipe by her drug dealer, against whom she was planning to testify. She recovered, but was later found dead while the dealer was in custody. 

Vanessa said there was a $2,000 bounty on her sister's head at the time of her death.

Disappeared from hospital

The family of Virginia Pictou-Noyes testified on Wednesday morning that they believe she was murdered by two men who said during a party — years after her disappearance from a Maine hospital in 1993 — that they had killed the "Dragon Lady." Pictou-Noyes was originally from Membertou First Nation. 

For over 20 years the family has searched for her remains, chasing phantom leads, searching through swamps and having their hopes dashed.

"She was seen here, she was seen there," said her brother Robert Pictou. "Imagine losing a loved one and then discovering that she is alive and you go and check it out and find out that someone stole her identity. Yeah, that is what happened."

Maine State Police did not respond to a request for comment. The inquiry moves next to Edmonton.