Politics

Carolyn Bennett 'agrees with' MMIWG inquiry reset request

Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs says she agrees with the Assembly of First Nation's calls to tweak the plagued National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

AFN motion asks for the inquiry to be more transparent and to give families more input

Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett looks on as AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks at the Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting in Regina, Sask., Tuesday July 25. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett says she agrees with calls from the Assembly of First Nation to tweak the plagued National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

During an emotional week, chiefs at the Assembly of First Nation passed a resolution calling on the organization's leadership to demand big changes at the inquiry, but voted against a proposal calling for the resignation of the inquiry's commissioners.

"In the reset that the AFN called for are things that we agree with. That the communication has to improve, the relationship with the families has to improve," Bennett told CBC Radio's The House.

"This call and cry for a reset means the commission is now changing its ways to have much better communication."

The AFN motion asks for the inquiry to be more transparent and make sure its public hearing process is less "legalistic."

It also says families need to have more input into how it operates.

Nadine Machiskinic (pictured at right) died in Regina's Delta Hotel in January of 2015, but her death remains mired in mystery and controversy over what happened. Now, a University of Saskatchewan student is calling on people not to support the hotel where Machiskinic was fatally injured. (Tim Fontaine/CBC)

The resolution calls on government to provide more funding and resources to the commission so it can better carry out its mandate — which should also be extended beyond its current two years

Bennett said she and her cabinet colleagues will look into providing more healing support to families.

"We as a government know that we've got to do a better job with healing, with support. The family liaison offices that were set up as part of this commission to help families navigate the justice system, I understand, are extremely strong in some places, not as strong in other places," Bennett said.

Police conduct will be reviewed 

The two resolutions at the AFN meeting came after an emotional, hours-long session with two commissioners, Michèle Audette and Brian Eyolfson, on Wednesday evening, when several families and community leaders asked for the process to be redesigned.

Manitoba Grand Chief Sheila North-Wilson openly called on the remaining MMIWG commissioners to resign. (CBC)

After the inquiry was pressured by families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to look at police actions in such cases, a news release Thursday said staff have assembled a forensic team that is currently reviewing police files.

"The national inquiry can and will consider the conduct of policing services and policies across Canada in 14 federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions," the news release said.

"The pain that we are hearing time and time again from the families is that justice was not served. That the search wasn't good enough," said Bennett. "I totally understand why these families are so frustrated."

Manitoba Grand Chief Sheila North-Wilson, who had called on the remaining inquiry commissioners to resign, said Friday that it's time for the federal government to step in.

"They have a hand in it. They are trying to remain at arm's length and they don't want to, you know, intervene, but I think they do because they are part of the problem and part of the solution. They have the authority to step in and ask for this," said the Keewatinowi Okimakanak grand chief.

"We need to see a hard reset that signifies to the families that this government is listening. That yes, there's been mistakes made. Acknowledge them and let's move on and appoint a commissioner based on who the families have a say in."

Hours before the vote on Thursday the lead commissioner Marion Buller told CBC's Power & Politics that she and her fellow commissioners would not resign, regardless of the vote's outcome.

"We're not stepping down. Simple as that," she said. "We have work to do, we have very important work to do, and we intend to do it."

The AFN ultimately did not pass the resolution asking for resignations from all the MMIWG commissioners.

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson talks about what should be done to fix the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. 4:04