MMIW inquiry should be headed by Indigenous women, report says

The federal government has released a summary of what it heard from victim's families and advocates during the consultation phase ahead of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Still no word on when inquiry will begin or who will be chosen as commissioners

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the first steps for her government's promised inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Ottawa on December 8, 2015. (CBC News)

The federal government has released a summary of what it heard from victim's families and advocates during the consultation phase ahead of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Among the findings released today were calls for the inquiry to be headed by an Indigenous woman and supported by a panel of commissioners, the majority of whom should be Indigenous women. Those commissioners should be diverse, representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis and different regions in Canada, according to the summary.

Other recommendations include that commissioners should be impartial, with experience in human rights law, policing and justice issues. The appointment process for these commissioners needs to be public and transparent, the summary said.

"That's something I heard from families all along, so it's good they are paying attention to what was said," said Cheryl Maloney, a Mi'kmaq lawyer and president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association.

The document said the inquiry should also hear from officials from government, corrections, justice and police.

There's still no word, however, on when the inquiry will actually begin or who will be chosen as commissioners. A spokesperson from the Indigenous Affairs said that information will be released in the coming months.

The pre-inquiry summary also says that female survivors of violence, and the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls should be a priority throughout the inquiry. Trans and two-spirit people, as well as Indigenous elders, should all be included and financial supports should be made available.

"You know when there's families that suffered a loss and you deal with it, and then all of sudden you're asked to talk about it again or somebody asks you about it, it's like opening things up all over again, we will definitely need that support," said Sharon Johnson, a Thunder Bay resident whose sister was found dead in 1992

'Concrete actions'

The summary includes recommendations about the structure and scope of the inquiry, stating that the focus should be broad enough to "result in recommendations for concrete actions for policy, program and legislative changes that address the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls."

It also recommends the inquiry have the authority to recommend changes within federal, provincial and territorial governments.

The summary suggests that national Indigenous organizations like the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada play a supporting role in the inquiry, offering help to families of victims or the commissioners themselves.
Cheryl Maloney, with the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, says she's glad government has listened to families of the missing and murdered. (CBC)

"That's all that they should be doing is a supportive role," said Maloney. "Somebody has to monitor and witness and critique the inquiry as it's going along. And if we play too much of a role in it then we're not the ones that can stand back and do that. "

End of pre-inquiry phase

The government first announced the inquiry in December 2015, shortly after launching a 'pre-inquiry phase.' During that phase, Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Minister of Status of Women Patty Hajdu  travelled the country, holding consultation meetings with victim's families, survivors of violence, and advocates for Indigenous women, among others.

The government wanted to hear people's thoughts on who should lead the inquiry, who should be allowed to give testimony, and how to best set up the inquiry so that there can be concrete actions when it finishes. 

In all, the ministers met with over 2,000 people at 17 meetings across the country.