Indigenous

RCMP change investigative approach to MMIW cases

The RCMP have made changes to how they investigate missing persons cases, months before a long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls gets underway.

New missing persons procedures, advisory group, part of changes being made by RCMP

Jennifer Catcheway went missing on June 19, 2008, the day of her 18th birthday. (gofundme.com)

The RCMP have made changes to how they investigate missing persons cases, months before a long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls gets underway.

As part of the updated policy, RCMP members must develop an investigative strategy for a missing persons case, which includes the completion of a missing person intake and risk assessment form that requires a supervisor's review and approval.

RCMP members are also required to work with families to develop a schedule for providing updates about the investigation. Such schedules have routinely been made in the past, but under the new policy it becomes mandatory. 

The changes were made on Dec. 12, 2016, CBC News has learned, but the move comes as a surprise to some advocates and victim's families, including Bernice and Wilfred Catcheway, parents of Jennifer Catcheway, 18, of Portage la Prairie, who went missing in June 2008. 

"It's got to start somewhere," says Bernice Catcheway, "But to date we haven't heard anything."

CBC was the first tell them about the changes.

'Negligence' by police, family says

The Catcheway family always had concerns regarding how their daughter's case was handled by the police, going back to when they first reported her missing. They said police never took it seriously.

Bernice Catcheway, left, and her husband, Wilfred Catcheway, are critical of the way RCMP handled the case of their missing daughter. (CBC)
"There was negligence, they're supposed to serve and protect but they aren't," said Wilfred Catcheway about the police. 

That has been a familiar refrain across the country.

While the federal government sought input on crafting its upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett heard from many family members who expressed dissatisfaction with the way officials investigated their loved one's case.

Training the RCMP

RCMP said the new policy has numerous avenues for addressing complaints from family members. 

And now with the use of the new missing person intake and risk assessment form, all relevant information is captured at the onset of the investigation.

My biggest concern is how this is going to be brought to the families who will be using this.- Francyne Joe, Native Women's Association of Canada

CBC News has also learned that contract and Aboriginal police are currently developing new missing persons training as well.

The training will become available online, including a module on missing Indigenous persons. When training is ready, it will be mandatory for all regular RCMP members. 

Expected date for completion is spring 2017. 

Volatile, emotional situations

Although the changes sound promising to some advocates, Francyne Joe, interim president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, is left wondering why the RCMP didn't widely announce them — especially with victim's families. 

"My biggest concern is how this is going to be brought to the families who will be using this. These are situations that are highly volatile, highly emotional situations," said Joe.

"I think in regards to the issues that plagued the RCMP for a number of years, especially in regards to how it affects Indigenous women, the RCMP need to be quite transparent in the processes that they're implementing." 

Joe said the RCMP need to work on building trust with Indigenous families and people at large. 

Circle of Change

One way the RCMP are combating the mistrust is through the Circle of Change. Established in 2015, it's a group of made up of individuals rather than representatives from Indigenous organizations who can consult the force on its work on issues of violence against Indigenous women and girls. 

The group provided input on the missing persons policy and intake form, but only three meetings have been held to date. 

The RCMP told CBC News the force is also working on building trust through a partnership with the Assembly of First Nations. In July 2016, a relationship building protocol was signed and an RCMP member was assigned to liaise with the AFN in Ottawa. 

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, left, signs an accord with RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson during the AFN general assembly on July 12, 2016. (Chris Glover/CBC)
However, both Joe and the Catcheways are unaware of the Circle of Change group.

"It's good, but how are we supposed to know something like that if they're not informing [us]?" said Bernice Catcheway. 

Joe would like to see some kind of engagement with Indigenous communities when it comes to the RCMP's Circle of Change group. 

Number of cases rises

The updated RCMP missing persons strategy was developed after their National Operational Overview on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women report, published in 2014. 

RCMP say there are over 1,000 cases of unsolved missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (CBC)
Among other findings, it said the RCMP reported 1,186 homicides and unresolved missing women investigations between 1980 and 2012.

One year later, the RCMP released a second report revealing 32 more Indigenous women were killed in 2013 and 2014 within RCMP jurisdictions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Originally from Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation) located in northwestern Ontario, Martha Troian is an investigative journalist who frequently contributes to CBC News, including work on the multiple award-winning and ongoing Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls. Follow her @ozhibiiige

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