1 year later, little progress on Quebec response to MMIWG report, say families and advocates

A year has passed since a national inquiry into the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada released its final report, but families and advocates in Quebec say little has been done to implement recommendations.

Report included supplementary section on Quebec with 21 recommendations

Woman holds a sign.
Laurie Odjick holds a sign with photo of her missing daughter, Maisy, who went missing along with Shannon Alexander in 2008 at age 16. Odjick was taking part in a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in October 2013 by the Native Women's Association of Canada honouring the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

A year has passed since a national inquiry into the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada released its final report, but families and advocates in Quebec say little has been done to implement recommendations.

"I'd like to see action. It's getting pretty dusty on that shelf," said Laurie Odjick about the report, which was released June 3, 2019.

Odjick's daughter Maisy Odjick, 16, disappeared with her friend Shannon Alexander, 17, on Sept. 6, 2008. They were both supposed to be going to a dance that night and planned on spending the night at Alexander's house in Maniwaki, Que., the town north of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg.

Odjick said that from her perspective, not much is being done in the province to respond to the report's calls for justice. In addition to the final report, the inquiry released a separate 175-page supplementary report on Quebec that found prejudices and racism persists in the province's public institutions creating a "social climate which disadvantages" Indigenous women that is "often overlooked."

21 calls for justice specific to Quebec

The report has 21 calls for justice directed specifically toward the needs of 85 people who testified about their experiences in the province in confronting violence and discrimination within Quebec society, its public institutions, and its government.

"The families were so brave in testifying and told these horrific situations that they had to go through with their loved ones," said Jessica Quijano, co-ordinator of the Native Women Shelter of Montreal's Iskweu Project that helps families when an Indigenous woman goes missing.

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"There's no excuse. If we put those recommendations into place, we would see the numbers drop and could actually eradicate this problem."

Jessica Quijano, co-ordinator of Iskweu, says she wants to see measures such as affordable housing programs and a 24-hour drop-in centre implemented. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Advocates like Quijano say they've been waiting for concrete action on the recommendations, such as for the government to fund more culturally appropriate resources, such as healing lodges, shelters and halfway houses in urban areas and in Indigenous communities. Quijano said she'd like to see affordable housing programs and a 24-hour drop-in centre — things that already exist in other provinces.

"It's like we're living in the 1980s. We're so behind compared to other provinces. There's definitely still a lot of work to be done," she said.

"In Quebec, there's not a lot of knowledge about MMIWG. There's this idea that it doesn't exist here, and there's an erasure of Indigenous people in general. There's just way less social awareness about this issue compared to other provinces."

The sentiments were echoed by Mary Hannaburg, vice-president of Quebec Native Women.

"From last year to now, we've seen little movement," she said.

"A whole year has gone by and nothing has happened. We have these calls to justice, there was a lot of work that was put into the report, a lot of energy from families, and to be dealt with in this way is not acceptable."

Former commissioners 'deplore inaction'

Former commissioners Marion Buller, Michèle Audette, Brian Eyolfson and Qajaq Robinson said in a statement that they "deplore inaction" on the part of some governments.

"With the exception of Yukon, which has developed comprehensive plans and commenced implementation, there has been deafening silence and unacceptable inaction from most governments," their statement read.

"The swift implementation of the National Inquiry's Calls for Justice is essential to address Canada's responsibility for the commission of genocide and for violations of fundamental human rights."

Former chief commissioner Marion Buller (left) and former commissioner Michèle Audette (right) during the closing ceremonies of the national inquiry.
Chief commissioner Marion Buller, left to right, and commissioners Brian Eyolfson, Qajaq Robinson and Michèle Audette prepare the final report to give to the government at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Families want say

The office of Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs said in a statement that the province has collaborated with Indigenous leaders and organizations to prioritize the calls to justice from the report, as well as recommendations that came out of last year's Viens commission report that found systemic discrimination in the province against Indigenous people.

A number of meetings with various groups and representatives have already taken place. But Odjick said families can't be forgotten and left out of those discussions.

"We'd like to have our say," said Odjick.

"We've lived the experience. Everyone has a different journey with their families. My daughter is still missing. Other families, their loved ones have been murdered. We're the best ones to help guide them through that."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.