Families disagree with MMIWG inquiry commission's reason to postpone hearings

Twenty-three families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls say they didn't advise commissioners of a long-awaited national inquiry to postpone public hearings, as was announced last week.

2nd senior communications adviser to leave inquiry commission

Some families taking part in the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls say they did not advise the inquiry commission to postpone public hearings for the summer. (CBC)

Twenty-three families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls say they didn't advise commissioners of a long-awaited national inquiry to postpone public hearings, as was announced last week.

On May 10, Bernée Bolton, director of communications for the MMIWG inquiry, said the hearings — which it refers to as the "truth-gathering process" — won't be held over the summer months because people told the inquiry commission that families would be hunting or travelling during that time.

An initial event will be held in Whitehorse in late May, and then the truth-gathering process will resume in the fall.

"It was shock that we had to read this in the papers and in the news," Melanie Morrison said of the commission's decision to hold off its hearings.

Morrison is an older sister to Tiffany Morrison, whose remains were found on May 31, 2010 near Honoré Mercier Bridge in Quebec.

Morrison is part of the inquiry's Family Advisory Circle, meant to provide guidance and advice to the commission.

Tiffany Alice Morrison is shown in this photo taken in her early 20s. She was 24 years old when she went missing from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec in June 2006. Her remains were found near the Honoré Mercier Bridge four years later. (Family photo)
Commission officials maintain they were advised by families and survivors that summer was not a good time to hold hearings. The summer months will now be reserved for meetings with experts on the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and will allow the commission to plan future hearings.

"I don't stop pushing for this inquiry to do its job because it's summer," said Morrison.

In Morrison's community of Kahnawake, Que., people don't shut down for the hunting season, but she acknowledged that the hunting season may vary for each community.

Commission's own family advisory circle disagrees

Most missing and murdered cases were in an urban setting, Morrison said, noting that most urban families would not be hunting.

A CBC News analysis found that nearly 70 per cent of MMIWG cases happened in an urban area.

Laurie Odjick, whose daughter, 16-year-old Maisy Odjick, went missing from Kitigan Zibi in Quebec in 2006, also sits on the advisory circle. She said she is disappointed with the commission's decision to postpone the hearings.

"To see everything unfold, they're not even listening," Odjick told CBC News.

Odjick said based on her knowledge, the Family Advisory Circle did not give such directive to the commission.

"It's just time for us to be vocal about this. Because this is not our inquiry, it's not a 'family first' model whatsoever," she said.

Time ticking

By Nov. 1, the commission is mandated to submit an interim report and produce a final report exactly one year later.

The commission has stated it intends to submit the interim report by its deadline and fulfil its mandate as set out in its terms of reference.

Headshot of Maisy Marie Odjick.
Maisy Marie Odjick was 16 years old when she and her best friend, Shannon Alexander, went missing from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Nation in Quebec in 2008. (Family photo)
With the clock ticking, Odjick is concerned about the commission's timeline.

"I don't think they have to be postponing anything. I mean, they only have two years and we're already down 16 months, maybe," she said.

Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said she is also concerned about the commission meeting its deadline while maintaining its commitment to families.

"If the inquiry want the families to be truly involved in this process, they need to have a calendar, a schedule, and communicate where they'll be and when families can meet with them," Joe said.

"[The] families will make the time."

Meanwhile, CBC News has learned that Sue Montgomery, senior communications adviser with the inquiry commission, will be resigning as of June 2.

It will mark the second time since February that a senior adviser has parted ways with the commission.

Weeks away from first-truth gathering process, numbers unknown

The first truth-gathering hearing will be held May 30 in Whitehorse, with an opening ceremony held the night before.

When asked, the commission would not reveal how many families are expected to attend the truth-gathering process in Whitehorse, saying "it is an ongoing process."

To date, 294 families have said they want to participate in the truth-gathering process.

Montgomery said all hearings will be public and media will have access to the truth-gathering process. Some publication bans may be present in some testimonies, or meeting held in-camera.

The commission was provided $53.86 million by the federal government over two years to complete its mandate by Dec. 31, 2018.

So far, about $5.2 million has been spent, accounting for approximately 10 per cent of the total budget. About $1.5 million was spent on salaries and $3.6 million spent on travel for employees and families to attend meetings along with professional services such as legal, interpretation, and translation and communication services.