MMIWG inquiry gets better grades in latest report card from Native Women's Association, but failures remain

The Native Women's Association of Canada's third report card to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls states there have been several important improvements, but five of the 15 areas measured still received a failing grade.

‘Communication, transparency, and accountability continue to be the most significant failings’ states report

Chief Commissioner of the national inquiry, Marion Buller, addresses a crowd at the community hearing closing ceremonies in B.C. in April. The third NWAC report card on the inquiry covers the time period from May 2017 until March 2018. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

The Native Women's Association of Canada's third report card to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls states there have been several important improvements, but five of the 15 areas measured still received a failing grade.

Using a colour-coded grading system, three areas of the inquiry were given a green for "pass," five areas were marked as yellow for "action required," five were given a red for "fail" and two areas were not graded because there was insufficient information to do so. 

For example, NWAC could not grade the inquiry on its final report because it's not due until the end of 2018 under its current two-year mandate.

The previous report card issued in May 2017 saw the inquiry failing in 10 of the 15 measured areas.

"I'm hoping that all the staff, including the commissioners, can understand that we are issuing these concerns so that they can do a better job for the next family," said NWAC President Francyne Joe.

She said she hopes the report isn't taken as a personal attack on anyone at the inquiry.

"This is for the benefit of our families and our missing and murdered."

'Profound lack of communication'

Among the areas given a failing grade, most boiled down to poor communication and transparency between the inquiry, families and survivors. 

This lack of communication is not only a source of frustration, but is also "re-traumatizing families," according to NWAC.

"The expression of frustration from families and witnesses since the very beginning of the inquiry is a direct result of the profound lack of communication from the inquiry. Previous recommendations expressing the need for immediate changes to the communications strategy have for the most part been ignored," stated the report card.

Qajaq Robinson, a commissioner with the inquiry, speaks during the first day of hearings on the Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia last fall.

Commissioner Qajaq Robinson acknowledged that the NWAC report was on point in some of its criticisms.

"I must echo that communication has been a challenge. It's not a small country. We've had challenges building our capacity in order to meet that need and we continue to work hard to address that," she said.

"Moving forward and trying to improve and learn has been a very important value that we have held from the beginning."

When asked how she felt about the report stating that the inquiry is re-traumatizing families, Robinson said she knows that none of the families want to be in the situation where they are sharing about the loss of someone they love.

"They would much rather be with their loved ones and not have experienced what they've experienced," she said.

"I do not want them to have additional pain as a result of this process, but we have to acknowledge that this is not easy and it was never going to be easy."

Report card offers dozens of recommendations

In detailing its observed failures, the report offered dozens of specific, concrete recommendations to the inquiry team.

It recommends that the inquiry establish a clear cut step-by-step guide for families, survivors and witnesses who want to participate in the inquiry process, so they know how their travel costs will be covered and when they will be reimbursed for specific out-of-pocket expenses.

It also recommends that the inquiry provide families and survivors with more information about how to access aftercare support before, during and after the hearings. 

But NWAC also found there have been improvements.

Francyne Joe is the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. (Native Women's Association of Canada )

"When I look at how the dealings between the commissioners and the families first begun up in Whitehorse you've seen such an improvement in the fact that the families are being better supported, there are better resources in place -— unfortunately it's not for every family, there are still some gaps," said Joe. 

The last scheduled community hearings were held in Vancouver and Richmond, B.C. last month. It's unclear if more will be held as the inquiry is waiting on a decision from Ottawa about its request for a two-year extension.

'True empathy and understanding' needed 

In issuing its third report card, the association encouraged the public and the media not to focus solely on the failures and struggles of the inquiry. Adding that its intention is not to feed into negative publicity.

"Unfortunately it seems like too much of the focus has been put on the administrative issues, the turnover of staff issues, and that's not respectful of the families and the women who've been killed. Their loved ones just want some closure," said Joe.

More than 1,200 family members and survivors shared their stories with the inquiry during its truth-gathering process, according to a media release from the inquiry in April. The team is now shifting into phases two and three of the inquiry, with several dates scheduled over the next two months for institutional and expert hearings.

According to the inquiry there are still around 500 family members and survivors registered to tell their stories. 

NWAC stated it will continue to support the inquiry's request for a two-year extension "as long as there are families and survivors who want to use this avenue to share their truths and their loved ones' stories."

The association will also continue to issue report cards as the inquiry continues.

"We would like to have a report card that is extremely supportive," Joe said.

"I think it's going to be very much dependent upon whether or not the extension takes place, because if there is no extension obviously we're going to have a reduction in the families being heard, as well as the technical sessions and the expert sessions."