MMIWG families bring demands for police accountability to Parliament Hill

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls gathered on Parliament Hill on the national day of action to draw attention to cases neglected or mishandled by police.

'I'm calling out the government, the police ... to do something. It's time,' says organizer Bridget Tolley

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller speaks as people gather on Parliament Hill for the National Day of Awareness for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) gathered in Ottawa on Tuesday to bring demands for police transparency, accountability and reform to the steps of Parliament Hill.

A small crowd gathered for the annual vigil organized by grassroots organization Families of Sisters in Spirit on the national day of action, where they laid out pictures across the lawn outside Centre Block.

Organizer Bridget Tolley, an Algonquin woman from Kitigan Zibi in Quebec, told the crowd it's long past the time for change.

"We don't want the next generation up here calling for the same actions as we've been calling for the past two decades. We want transparency. We want accountability in all our cases," Tolley said.

"I'm calling out the government, the police, all national organizations to do something. It's time. We're here to honour all our missing and murdered that have been murdered or disappeared and our cases that are unresolved — case closed with no investigation and no accountability."

Tolley's mother 61-year-old Gladys Tolley was struck and killed by a Quebec provincial police cruiser in 2001, leaving the family fighting for justice for the next two decades. They finally received an apology this year for the way their family was treated.

WATCH | On national day of remembrance, families of MMIWG call for more action: 

Families of MMIWG call for action on day of remembrance

4 months ago
Duration 2:01
On a national day of remembrance for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), families and other Indigenous people say they are frustrated and angry by the lack of action to implement recommendations they say could help.

In its 2019 final report, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls dedicated an entire section of its calls for justice to police reform, while recent cases and reports have thrown law enforcement agencies' treatment of Indigenous women under the microscope.

In Quebec, allegations local police engaged in racist abductions and sexual assaults of Indigenous women sparked a public inquiry that tabled its final report also in 2019. 

More recently, a women's advocacy group known as Feminist Alliance for International Action issued a report demanding an external review to halt what it described as a "shocking" culture of misogyny in the RCMP.

In 2020, former Supreme Court judge Michel Bastarache issued a similarly scathing report that said "the culture of the RCMP is toxic and tolerates misogyny and homophobia at all ranks and in all provinces and territories."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, holds a copy of the report presented to him by commissioners Marion Buller, centre, Michele Audette, third from right, Brian Eyolfson, second from right, and Qajaq Robinson at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., in June 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

After tabling an action plan in response to the report two years after it was released, the federal government has come under fire from advocates like Tolley, and many others, who contend the government has been slow to act.

Former commissioner attends

Among the politicians and dignitaries in attendance Tuesday was Sen. Michèle Audette, a former commissioner with the inquiry who is now a member of the Progressive Senate Group.

Audette said her work now involves pushing for action every day in the upper house, though she added she doesn't want to feel like "a rock in the shoe" of her fellow parliamentarians by constantly pressing for action.

"Every time I hear a story or I read about a story, it's always for me a responsibility," Audette said.

"It's a crisis. I understand. I feel it."

Audette said hearing survivors and families tell their stories reminds her how much work remains. Her message to them is simple: "Remind us. You have that responsibility also. You're allowed to remind us to do more and do better."

Also in attendance, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, who is in charge of responding to the MMIWG inquiry's final report at the federal level, acknowledged the government has failed to produce the results many hoped for.

"It's gone far too slowly. I will acknowledge that," Miller said.

"Canada has to step up. Provinces and territories have to step up. Police forces have to step up."

Alexandrine Hess, third from the right, came to Ottawa with two more generations of her family to remember their loved ones who were murdered or went missing. (Brett Forester/CBC)

Alexandrine Hess, 82, of Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario, came to Ottawa for the first time with her daughter and granddaughter along with a support group for MMIWG families. 

She offered her take on where to start.

"Our people have been pushed back for so long, and I've been in these places where the conditions are so bad," she said.

"The prevention, I think, needs to start right in those remote areas."


Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.