MMIW inquiry won't hear from most families until the fall
After next week's hearings in Whitehorse, inquiry will spend the summer listening to expert testimony
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is holding three days of family hearings in Whitehorse at the end of May, but after that the five commissioners won't hear from families in other parts of the country until the fall.
Instead, the inquiry will spend the summer hearing from experts on violence against women.
Bernée Bolton, director of communications for the MMIW inquiry, said in a statement that the commissioners are waiting until the fall to hear from other families because many people told the inquiry they would be on the land hunting or travelling in the summer and it would not be a good time to hold hearings.
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The inquiry has also decided to scrap further regional information meetings that it was conducting ahead of its public inquiry, in favour of more informal community ones.
"The national inquiry will no longer hold regional advisory meetings. The new approach is community visits. This was decided after considering valuable advice offered by families and groups in Whitehorse in April and other communities before that," said Bolton in an email.
I suspect they've given it a lot of thought and they've decided that holding hearings over the summer months is not the best way with regard to families.- Senator Murray Sinclair, former Truth and Reconcilliation Commission chair
"A team, made up of members from the national inquiry's health, research, community relations and legal teams will participate in these community visits in order to lay the ground work for [the] truth gathering process."
The visits will take place in the summer.
The national inquiry is a key part of the federal government's reconciliation efforts with Canada's Indigenous people. The five-person panel was appointed last August by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to spend two years investigating why so many Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or gone missing.
The RCMP estimate that number to be close to 1,200 between 1980 and 2012, but the Native Women's Association of Canada puts the number closer to 4,000.
So far, about 294 families have said they want to participate in the hearings.
Families and Indigenous organizations have become increasingly frustrated and angry with what they call a lack of information and communication about when they can participate.
There is also a growing campaign on Twitter to reset the panel and start again, using the hashtag #ResettheInquiry.
But the panel members have been trying to reassure families they need to take the time to make sure the hearings into traumatic events are held in a supportive way for family members. They insist this latest change of plans is part of that.
"There is an extensive community engagement and communications plan to connect to families and survivors. We are reaching out via our newsletter, social media, national Indigenous organizations, podcasts and the media, posters, fact sheets," said Bolton.
Senator Murray Sinclair says that MMIW panel needs the time to get it right. He took over as head of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission in 2009 after it was restarted because of problems.
He said it took a full year to be ready to begin hearing from survivors.
"I suspect they've given it a lot of thought and they've decided that holding hearings over the summer months is not the best way with regard to families," said Sinclair in an interview with CBC News.
"Involving experts will help also families who are following the work of the inquiry to understand some of the issues the commission is going to address ... It's not like the commission will be doing nothing, they will be doing some very important work."
With files from Jody Porter