'Traumatizing experience': Families of MMIW call for more support after inquiry testimony

"Why wasn't the plan put in place to have a succession plan in health care... I support a national inquiry, but not the way it's structured, not the way it's operating."
Paul Tuccaro shakes the hand of MMIWG National Inquiry Chief Commissioner after speaking at the Edmonton hearings in early November.
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Story transcript

The first few months of hearings in the missing and murdered inquiry have been plagued by delays, firings and resignations of commissioners — and now critics are calling for more emotional support or aftercare for those who do testify.

"I cried and, you know, I don't usually cry. I try to keep everything together," Paul Tuccaro told The Current's Friday host Susan Ormiston about testifying at the inquiry.

"It was a hard thing to do."

Paul Tuccaro found it hard to speak at times as he remembered his sister Amber and shared his frustration about the handling of her case. (CBC)

Tuccaro's sister Amber, a 20-year-old mother from the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Alberta, disappeared seven years ago, after getting into an unknown man's vehicle. Her body was found two years later, and the case remains unsolved.

Tuccaro said he was passed from one person to the next and had to tell his story "all over again."

"You would think they will take the time and effort to properly sit down and plan it ... not just play with people's feelings."

'I cried and, you know, I don't usually cry ... it was a hard thing to do,' said Paul Tuccaro, who testified on Nov. 7. (Brandi Morin/CBC)
"They can't say I didn't say it … it's documented, and we're finally able to say something about my sister.'- Paul Tuccaro

Tuccaro said he was offered a few phone numbers after his testimony to contact for support.

"That's fine for some people, but for some people it doesn't work."

He called for additional aftercare, saying that the inquiry should have hired more people who have missing family members instead of those with "a degree or whatever credential."

But he said the best part of the inquiry was that his testimony was now "part of history."

"They can't say I didn't say it … it's documented, and we're finally able to say something about my sister.

Morene Gabriel was hired with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls national inquiry in June and fired on November 14. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Morene Gabriel, a former staff at the inquiry, said she made recommendations on how the inquiry could better provide aftercare — but soon after she was fired.

The inquiry testimony "is a very traumatizing experience" for families, Gabriel said.

I support a national inquiry, but not the way it's structured, not the way it's operating.- Morene Gabriel

Gabriel's own family had participated in the hearings to share the story of her older sister who was killed in 2001.

"We were expected to do the aftercare plans immediately after a person came out of their hearing ... when they're still in the state of trauma and nobody's thinking clearly."

"There is no guide. There wasn't a framework. So it begs the question for me, I'm liable to administer this weak plan, this passive plan," said Gabriel.

"Why wasn't the plan put in place to have a succession plan in health care... I support a national inquiry, but not the way it's structured, not the way it's operating."

The Current requested an interview with the missing and murdered inquiry. The ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs sent the following statement:

  • Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is an on-going national tragedy and our government is committed to ending it.
  • The Commissioner's mandate is clear – families must be at the centre of the Commission's work.
  • That's why the terms-of-reference for the inquiry set-out that the National Inquiry should adhere to a trauma-informed – which includes providing health supports for witnesses who participate in or attend hearings.
  • The commission is continually learning from and adapting to the concerns raised by families. This includes asking in its interim report for additional resources for health supports for the hearings.
  • Our government is reviewing the report and its recommendations and Minister Bennett will be meeting with the commissioners to discuss these requests.
  • We remain committed to ensuring that families get the answers they have been waiting for

This segment was produced by The Current's Amra Pasic, Pacinthe Mattar, Anne Penman