Native Women's Association gives missing and murdered inquiry failing grades for efforts so far

The federal government's inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls has been given a failing grade by a national Indigenous women's group, even before the inquiry has heard from the families of the victims.

National Indigenous women's group wants public apology from inquiry for falling short of commitments

From left, commissioners Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson listen during the launch of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The federal government's inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls has been given a series of failing grades by a national Indigenous women's group, even before the inquiry has heard from the families of the victims. 

The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), in its second report card on the inquiry, has singled out a number of areas where the commission holding the inquiry has let people down through poor communications, planning and outreach. 

The federal government launched the $53.8-million independent inquiry in August 2016. The inquiry is still being set up, and will not start hearing from families until the end of the month.

The inquiry's interim report is due Nov. 1, 2017, giving the five commissioners only months to hear from stakeholders and family members that want to testify. 

The report card graded the commission holding the inquiry on 15 areas, giving 10 areas a "fail" and three an "action required" rating, while noting that it did not have enough information to grade the inquiry in two other areas. 

The association's report said the commission failed to meet its responsibility to keep on schedule, noting that "milestone dates went unannounced and regular progress reports were not released." 

The report also said the hiring of legal and research teams was given priority over teams handling communications, community relations and health — all of which, the report says, remain understaffed. 

"It is likely that outside factors, such as the approval of the budget as well as a lack of access to funds, may have contributed to the delays," the report said. 

Apology requested

The commission was also given a failing grade for communications. The report said it took four months to hire a director of communications and that the emails sent out by the inquiry use confusing language and contain little valuable information. 

The report said that the commissioner's reliance on social media and email to communicate with people who want to testify leaves out marginalized groups without internet access such as the homeless and people in prison. 

"The families of First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls deserve a public apology for not putting their needs first and not sharing information openly and effectively," the report said. 

The other areas in which the commission was criticized include:

  • Failing to build community relations with families, survivors and external stakeholders.
  • Failing to ensure the commission has enough money to complete the inquiry. The report says that more than 10 per cent of the budget has been used up with many more people to hire and hearings to stage. 
  • Failing to set up an inquiry that is "trauma-informed" by putting the collection of research and data above providing families with opportunities to shape and lead the process. 
  • Failing to include reconciliation as a part of the inquiry.
  • Failing to engage with affected families or the broader public.
  • Failing to provide families and community members the opportunity to share their experiences. 
  • Failing to establish regional advisory bodies of family members and loved ones to advise on issues. 
  • Failing to establish issue-specific advisory bodies of youth, elders and family members. 

More action needed

NWAC's report said there were three areas where action is required. 

  • The first is for the commission to meet its commitment to recommend ways to honour and commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 
  • The second is making good on the commission's mandate to provide the federal government with an interim report by Nov. 1.
  • And the inquiry process needs to respect the diverse cultural, spiritual and linguistic traditions of Indigenous Peoples. 

"It is difficult to assess whether the commission is respecting the diverse cultural, linguistic and spiritual traditions of Indigenous people when a list of locations and hosting organizations has not been released," the report said.