Premiers broadly support leaked terms for MMIW inquiry, but not quite ready to sign on

Canada's premiers are reacting cautiously, but supportively, to the federal government's proposed terms of reference for a federal inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.

AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde says provinces can act now to improve First Nations services

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, left to right, speaks with P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan as Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister looks on during a meeting of Premiers and National Aboriginal Organization leaders in Whitehorse, Yukon, July 20, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Canada's premiers are reacting cautiously, but supportively, to the federal government's proposed terms of reference for a federal inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.

But speaking to reporters during a meeting with Canada's five national Aboriginal organizations in Whitehorse Wednesday, some expressed concern at the slow pace of progress on the file, the possibility of duplicating earlier inquiries or slowing work already underway to prevent more women from becoming victims.

"Canada's premiers have supported this call [for an inquiry] now for a number of years," said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, chair of the meeting. "We're all together in calling for an inclusive and transparent process that's trusted and respected by everybody."

"We want to make sure that this inquiry builds on the work that has already been done in various parts of the country and as a result of that we will produce deliverables," he said.

The terms of reference aren't finished yet.

But a draft of the terms of reference obtained by CBC News this week says commissioners would focus on the prevention of violence, but not necessarily probe police conduct — something families had been asking for.

The commission would focus on identifying systemic causes of violence and recommend "concrete action" to help end violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Timeframe called 'too ambitious'

Several provincial officials confirmed the federal government had shared the terms of reference with them, or expressed familiarity with its intentions.

The two-year time frame proposed by the federal government might be "too ambitious," B.C. Premier Christy Clark told APTN, noting that B.C.'s inquiry into women who disappeared from Vancouver's downtown eastside took 26 months.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, left to right, speaks with Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada, and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall during a meeting of Premiers and National Aboriginal Organization leaders in Whitehorse, Yukon, July, 20, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"We're certainly concerned about ensuring that the scope of the inquiry is established with a view to, among other things, effectiveness," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said. "We don't want to scope ourselves out of the ability to make the inquiry worthwhile."

Notley said Alberta hasn't signed off yet. Her cabinet needs to discuss it first.

But: "Generally speaking we're very supportive... we'll certainly not be the province holding things up on it."

Notley characterized the premiers' work on the inquiry as "awfully close," with a "pretty high level of consensus."

But she also said the inquiry shouldn't delay the work provinces were already doing on the file.

"Making progress on solutions is as important as identifying the problem," she said.

Make changes now, AFN chief urges

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said his province wants to keep a commitment he made to First Nations in Quebec to investigate recent cases in Val D'Or, Que., where dozens of Aboriginal women have complained about abuse at the hands of police.

One federal commission, rather than both a federal and provincial inquiry, may be better than two parallel processes, he said.

Couillard also said he also needed to make sure the inquiry would include enough French before he approved the proposed format.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde told reporters after the meeting that governments don't have to wait for the outcome of the inquiry to start making things better.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, speaks at a press conference during the first minister's meeting in Whitehorse. (CBC)

"Governments can make investments to end violence amongst our people, amongst Indigenous women and girls," he said, mentioning housing, health, education and other public services.

"We all have a role to play as Indigenous governments as well."

MMIW inquiry graphic

6 years ago
Duration 0:55
What the missing murdered Indigenous women inquiry might look like