Ontario First Nations to hold inquiry into missing, murdered indigenous women

Chiefs of Ontario launch digital fundraising campaign "Who Is She" to pay for their own inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls.

Chiefs of Ontario launch digital fundraiser called Who Is She to pay for public inquiry

Ontario chiefs announce a campaign to pay for their own inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. From left: Deputy Chief Denise Stonefish, Regional Chief Isadore Day and Chief Ava Hill. (CBC)
Ontario First Nations will launch their own inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls, saying the issue is too important to wait for the outcome of the upcoming federal election.

To pay for the inquiry, Chiefs of Ontario — a group representing 163 communities — has launched a website called Who Is She where the public can make donations. The site also features photographs of the missing and murdered, as well as messages from their families. 

Chiefs of Ontario launch fundraising campaign to pay for their own inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. (CBC)
"Every indigenous woman and girl should feel safe in this country," said Denise Stonefish, deputy grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, which is aligned with Chiefs of Ontario.

"First Nations families cannot wait for Ottawa to stop indigenous women and girls from disappearing."

Both the federal Liberals and New Democrats have vowed to launch a public inquiry if elected, something the Conservative government has refused to do.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne applauded the Ontario Chiefs for starting the "Who Is She" campaign.

"I think that it is laudable that they are going to be doing a campaign here in Ontario," Wynne said. "I will continue to raise my voice in the call for a national inquiry."

It isn't known how many of the missing and murdered are from that province, but Isadore Day, head of Chiefs of Ontario, says the organization has been working with the Ontario Provincial Police and the attorney general's office to find out.

Day says an inquiry would not replace a national public inquiry commissioned by the federal government.

"Canada must be held accountable for its inaction on this issue," he said.

"It's a wonderful time to get the message out there, don't you think," Day said of the federal election. "If we were to wait until the election campaign was over we would be remiss — we would have missed a good opportunity."

World attention

The staggeringly high numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women has drawn world attention.

A 2015 United Nations report found that young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die under violent circumstances, as compared with their non-aboriginal counterparts.

Last year, the RCMP released a report that said there were 1,181 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012. Earlier this year, the force updated those numbers and said an additional 32 aboriginal women have been slain and 11 more have disappeared since 2013.

There is no dollar figure set for the fundraising campaign, and Day acknowledged that public inquiries can be very expensive, but said that wasn't the chiefs' main concern.

"The urgency of this matter is one that has prompted us to not look at the total cost of an inquiry," he said. "What we're proposing here is we're going to do whatever we can, within our might, with the goodwill of our partners, to establish the beginning phases of that inquiry."

With files from The Canadian Press