Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women has just 122 names registered

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are concerned about how the commission overseeing a long-awaited national inquiry is collecting names for its database.

Putting onus on families to register is 'problematic,' says advocate

A conservative estimate puts the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada at more than 1,000. But so far just 122 names have been registered with the national inquiry. (CBC)

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are concerned about how the commission overseeing a long-awaited national inquiry is collecting names for its database.

To date, there are just 122 family members' names in the commission's database, despite other databases in Canada pegging the number at well over 1,000.

After the pre-inquiry process, led by Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the department did not share family contact names with the commission owing to privacy rules.

The commission says the onus is on family members themselves to register the names — something that may not be widely known.

Sue Montgomery, commission spokesperson, told CBC News that family members can register in four ways: email, fax, mail or via the inquiry website. Montgomery also said family members will be able to call a toll-free number as of Wednesday. 

Lack of names in database 'appalling'

Anita Ross, mother to Delaine Copenace, 16, whose body was found last spring off a dock in downtown Kenora, Ont., is one of the people concerned by the process.

"Not everyone emails, or uses Facebook, or has access to the internet," says Ross.

Ross said she recently contacted the commission to see if she was registered, since she recalls signing up online sometime in 2016.

"I don't like to just give information to any website," says Ross. "I never got no acknowledgement or saying that I am now registered."

The body of Delaine Copenace, 16, was found in Kenora, Ont., last spring. Her mother, Anita Ross, says the process for registering with the inquiry is flawed. Not everyone has access to the internet, she says. (Facebook)

But Montgomery said families might have signed up for their newsletter instead of registering with the inquiry — something she is working to clarify on the inquiry's website.

Roxana Wilson, who lives in northern B.C.'s Fort Rupert, said she was appalled to learn how few names the commission has in its database.

Wilson's six-year-old daughter, Adriane Cecile Wadhams, was murdered in June 1989. Jason Kennedy, 15 at the time, was sentenced to life in 1991 for her death.

Wilson is concerned about how the commission will reach out to remote communities.

"I really believe there should be an advocate in place for people in small remote communities, such as myself."

Wilson said she is new to attending events and vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and is worried about being left out.

Hearings to begin in 32 locations

CBC News has learned that hearings will begin in May. A schedule for 32 locations will be released soon, officials said. 

Prisons are being ​considered among the locations to hold hearings, Montgomery said. The commission's legal team is currently waiting for the green light from federal and provincial authorities.

Hearings will only be held in communities that welcome them, something the interim president of the Native Women's Association of Canada does not agree with.

Nor does Francyne Joe like that family members need to identify themselves to the commission.

"Putting the onus on family members, it's problematic in that family members are not given the tools and sufficient time to submit their names," says Joe.

Joe says it's simply the wrong time of the year for some families and the commission should have been better prepared.

"I know a number of families who will be working, hunting, collecting medicines, or on the powwow trail," Joe says. 

Anita Ross remains unhappy about the lack of communication from the commission and wonders if it is truly listening to the families.

She also wonders if family members will receive any financial assistance to attend hearings.

Montgomery says funds will be allocated for families to attend hearings, the details of which will be made public once the Treasury Board approves their budget.

The commission is expected to wrap up its hearings in October or November 2017.


Originally from Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation) located in northwestern Ontario, Martha Troian is an investigative journalist who frequently contributes to CBC News, including work on the multiple award-winning and ongoing Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls. Follow her @ozhibiiige