Full summary of what we heard: Final report of the pre-inquiry engagement process

Table of contents

1. About this report

This report summarizes the results of public input into the design of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. It highlights key issues and recommendations identified as priorities at face-to-face engagement meetings, in online surveys and through phone, email and mail submissions. As such, it reflects a diversity of viewpoints heard during the pre-inquiry consultations. 

This report is comprised of five main sections. These sections describe the background for the inquiry and the pre-inquiry, as well as the results of the public consultation and next steps:

2. Background

For more than a decade, demand for government action to stop violence against Indigenous women in Canada has grown. A broad cross-section of people and groups—from affected families, survivors and community groups to national organizations and international human rights bodies—have called for a review into the high rates of deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls.

While an Amnesty International report released in 2004 first brought public attention to the issue, the facts come from the government's own statistics. In a 2009 government survey on victimization of women in the provinces, it was revealed that Indigenous women were three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to report being the victim of a violent crime. This was true whether the perpetrator was a stranger or a spouse.

What is more, Indigenous women in Canada not only face higher incidences of violence than other women, they experience more severe forms of violence. A 2011 Statistics Canada report points out that 58 percent of the Indigenous women who suffered violence at the hands of their spouse sustained an injury. Almost half reported that they had been sexually assaulted, beaten, choked, or threatened with a gun or knife.

To raise awareness about "the alarming high rates of violence against Aboriginal women and girls", the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) documented more than 582 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, most within the last decade. They suggested that the actual numbers may be much higher because of gaps in police and government reporting.

In an effort to build on the work of the NWAC, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a report in May 2014 on incidents of missing and murdered Indigenous women across all police jurisdictions in Canada. By examining the data from more than 300 police forces, they determined that there were 164 missing and 1,017 murdered Indigenous women and girls. A 2015 update to the RCMP report indicated an additional 32 Indigenous female homicide cases and 11 additional Indigenous women identified as missing in the RCMP's jurisdiction since the 2014 report was conducted.

The RCMP also confirmed what affected families and advocates had long been saying, that Indigenous women are "over-represented" among Canada's missing and murdered women. Indigenous women account for 16 percent of all women murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012, but comprise only four percent of Canada's female population.

As the RCMP found, the homicide rate for Indigenous women has remained unchanged over the past three decades while it has been declining for non-Indigenous women in Canada. This reinforces the need to develop a national response to the threats to safety faced by Indigenous women and girls.

Launch of a national inquiry

On December 8, 2015, the Government of Canada launched a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The announcement came in response to the calls of Indigenous families, communities and organizations for such an inquiry. Included among those organizations was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which formally called on the government to launch a public inquiry into "the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls."

The inquiry will seek recommendations on concrete actions that governments, police, and others can take to solve these deaths and prevent future ones.  The inquiry offers an important step towards reconciliation and building a nation-to-nation relationship based on a renewed sense of trust between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples in Canada.

3. Pre-inquiry design process

The Government of Canada committed to a national inquiry that balances diverse viewpoints and reflects the needs and expectations of the survivors, families and loved ones. To meet this commitment, the government sought the views and perspectives of many individuals and organizations to help design the inquiry.

The primary focus of the face to face meetings was hearing from the survivors, families and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In addition, the federal ministers met with Indigenous leaders, organizations and communities, provincial and territorial leaders, front-line organizations, scholars and legal experts.

The pre-inquiry design process was led by three federal ministers:

  • The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
  • The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
  • The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women

The process was supported by a secretariat that managed the operations and logistics of the pre-inquiry design phase. This included organizing the engagement meetings, collecting the submissions (whether given in person or sent by phone, mail or online), and preparing summaries of what was heard.

Efforts to engage

The Government of Canada's efforts to engage included:

  • 17 face-to-face meetings with one or more of the ministers and more than 2,000 survivors, family members and loved ones (including their personal supports) as well as front-line service providers
  • meetings with national Aboriginal organizations, provincial and territorial leaders (or their representatives), Indigenous leaders, scholars and legal experts

The government also encouraged the Canadian public to share their views and recommendations:

  • by phone, mail or email
  • through an online survey open to the public from January 5, 2016 to February 22, 2016
  • on Twitter using the hashtag #MMIW

Engagement meetings

The engagement meetings began in Ottawa, Ontario, on December 11, 2015, and ended in Ottawa on February 15, 2016 with meetings held from coast to coast to coast. See the appendix  for a complete list of locations and dates.

The meetings provided the government the opportunity to hear first-hand from survivors, families and loved ones of those murdered or missing women and girls. All 17 meetings were attended by one or more of the three lead ministers, as well as senior-level government officials. In addition, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness attended one or two meetings. Provincial and Territorial ministers attended some meetings as well. 

To help make participants feel safe, supported and respected, a range of cultural, spiritual and religious ceremonies were an important part of each meeting. Elders were on hand to provide ceremony and counsel. To ensure the well-being of participants, health support workers from Health Canada were available at all times to provide additional cultural and emotional support.

Effort was made to give survivors, families and loved ones as much advance notice as possible to enable their participation in meetings in their regions. Invitations were circulated through local and national Indigenous organizations and their networks, as well as through the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) regional offices. Costs for travel, accommodation and meals for family members and support people were provided by the Government of Canada. 

Discussion questions

The engagement meetings and online survey were structured around nine questions. The questions were focused on receiving input into the design of the inquiry, including its objectives, scope and format. In developing the questions, the government took into account the large volume of work already done by national Indigenous organizations and provincial and territorial governments, as well as public statements by individual family members:

  1. Who should lead the inquiry?
  2. Who do you think should provide views or have an opportunity to participate in the inquiry?
  3. What are the key issues that need to be addressed by the inquiry?
  4. How can the process be set up so it results in providing concrete and practical recommendations for specific actions?
  5. How can cultural practices and ceremonies be incorporated into the design of the inquiry?
  6. How is it best to involve the families, loved ones and survivors in the inquiry?
  7. How should Indigenous groups (national Aboriginal organizations, front-line workers, band councils, etc.) be included in the inquiry?
  8. What supports (health supports, counselling, translation, etc.) may be needed during the inquiry for individuals who are participating?
  9. Is there anything else you would like to add to help design the inquiry?

4. Summary of recommendations

The input received through the pre-inquiry meetings and submissions was wide ranging with several key themes emerging.  The most commonly expressed recommendations for the inquiry have been organized into the following four categories:

  • Leadership, structure and scope focuses on who should lead the inquiry, the process for appointments, how the inquiry should be structured and the scope of its work.
  • Participation focuses on who should participate in the inquiry, how best to support their participation and what role should be played by National Aboriginal Organizations, front-line workers, and Indigenous community leaders and organizations.
  • Key issues and actions focuses on some of the most important issues the inquiry should address and provides a few examples from a broad range of actions that could be taken immediately or while the inquiry conducts its work. 
  • Cultural practices and supports focuses on the cultural practices, ceremonies and health supports that should be incorporated into the design of the inquiry.

Leadership, structure and scope of the inquiry

There was significant support for an independent and transparent inquiry led by Indigenous women which also includes the participation of men and is representative of Indigenous communities and regions. There was strong support for the inquiry to establish a timeline that is sensitive to the needs of the survivors, families and loved ones while avoiding a drawn-out and overly legalistic process. Considerable support was also expressed for an inquiry that is national in scope and has the full cooperation and participation of all levels of government.

Commissioners

  • The inquiry should be led by an Indigenous woman supported by a panel of commissioners, the majority of whom should be Indigenous women.
  • The commissioners should represent a diversity of views, cultures and interdisciplinary professions as well as geographic regions. They should also reflect the diversity of Canada's First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, and include representation from non-governmental Indigenous organizations, as well as family members.
  • The commissioners should be accomplished and respected leaders with a proven record of impartiality. Their life experience should ensure they have empathy and compassion towards the families, survivors, and loved ones. They should also be healthy in spirit, body and mind and be informed about the trauma associated with the issues they would encounter.
  • The qualifications of the commissioners should include experience and expertise in legal principles (including human rights law), as well as policing and the justice system.
  • The commissioners should also have knowledge of research and investigation methods along with in-depth knowledge of the issues facing Indigenous peoples in Canada.
  • An appointment process for commissioners should be transparent and national in scope to ensure the inquiry has the credibility to carry out its mandate. 

Structure and scope of the inquiry

  • Commissioners should be supported throughout the process by an advisory circle or multiple circles of Indigenous peoples representing groups such as youth, elders, community members, survivors, and family members, as well as representatives of Indigenous organizations. An expert panel (or panels) should also be available to research, advise, and provide support on specific issues.
  • The commissioners should be supported by staff with a variety of expertise, and include an engagement team to provide outreach with communities in each province and territory. This team, along with the commissioners, should have the capacity to review and build upon existing research.
  • The commissioners should have the authority to ask for or conduct reviews and investigations of individual cases.
  • The inquiry should be subject to impartial oversight that would monitor its progress and ensure its accountability, as well as ensure adequate funding and monitoring for the implementation of its recommendations.
  • In order to assess lessons learned, consideration should be given to past inquiries and commissions on Indigenous issues such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Highway of Tears Symposium, the Missing Women Commission of inquiry (Oppal inquiry) and the Manitoba Justice inquiry.
  • The inquiry should be granted the authority to pursue issues and make recommendations within federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
  • The scope of the inquiry should be broad enough to result in recommendations for concrete actions for policy, program and legislative changes that address the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Participation

The majority of respondents focused on the need to be inclusive, underscoring the importance and acceptance of a diversity of perspectives. 

Who should participate

  • The participation of female survivors of violence, and the families and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, should be a priority throughout the inquiry. There should be no funding barriers and every effort should be made to enable full participation.
  • Indigenous men and boys should be encouraged to participate throughout the inquiry.
  • Trans and two-spirit people and communities should feel welcome to participate.
  • Front-line service providers, social workers and counsellors, as well as representatives of organizations who directly support and engage with Indigenous families and communities, should be given the chance to participate.
  • Indigenous community members including elders and Indigenous leaders should be included.
  • Representatives of the government, justice systems, and law enforcement agencies should also participate in the proceedings.

Support for participants

  • A variety of methods should be employed to clearly and openly communicate about the inquiry's short- and long-term goals, schedule and dates of proceedings, and to reach out to individuals who may wish to participate.
  • Participants should be given adequate time along with the necessary resources to ensure their safe and timely participation.
  • All potential barriers to participation should be addressed (language, literacy, mental and physical health issues, age, costs, etc.).
  • Special effort should be made to reach out and support the poorest and most marginalized groups (e.g., the incarcerated, the homeless, sex workers, addicts and women fleeing domestic violence).
  • Legal representation should be provided if necessary.
  • Commissioners or their representatives should travel throughout the country, including to remote Northern areas, to conduct interviews and to engage with the families, survivors and loved ones in their communities.
  • Protective measures should be put in place for individuals who feel at risk. These would include alternative methods for participation such as private interviews, written, taped and anonymous submissions as well as telephone hotlines, community circles and focus groups.
  • Media involvement should be monitored and potentially limited to broadcasting the inquiry proceedings.

Role of national Aboriginal organizations and Indigenous community leaders and organizations

  • The priority for these groups should be focused on supporting the participation of families, survivors and loved ones in the inquiry.
  • These groups should also consider:
    • Leading a national media campaign to support the inquiry and its proceedings.
    • Training media on appropriate coverage of the inquiry and of a truthful portrayal of Indigenous people to prevent further reporting of stereotypes and myths.
    • Assisting with communications and circulating information about the inquiry through existing networks.

Key issues and actions

Although the key issues and actions are organized into categories, it is clear that most, if not all, are interconnected. It is therefore not surprising that significant support was expressed for the inquiry to take a holistic approach to its analysis of the issues — one that looks at the economic, cultural, political and social causes of violence. This human rights-based approach would include an assessment of the underlying causes of violence, inequality and discrimination to determine actions that would result in systemic change.

Child and family services

  • The inquiry should:
    • Review child welfare policies and the care of Indigenous children in child protective services to determine any potentially negative impact on Indigenous children, families and communities.
    • Address the separation of Indigenous children from their families and the disproportionally high rates of Indigenous children in child welfare services.
    • Examine the failure of the child welfare system to respond to and deal with individual cases.
    • Assess the social programs and services, health care and counselling supports being provided to Indigenous people to assist with issues of substance abuse and addictions, mental health, poverty, inadequate housing, and unemployment.
    • Examine the relationship between a lack of adequate social programs and services and family violence.
    • Address the disparity in funding for services on reserves and off reserves, and increase funding for family counselling in remote locations.
    • Identify and address the specific needs of children of victims and ensure they have protection and mental, social and health supports.

Law enforcement

  • The inquiry should:
    • Review the structures and systems in place to ensure police and law enforcement agencies are accountable for how they investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
    • Initiate independent reviews of investigations or official conclusions regarding deaths or disappearances that family members believe should be re-examined.
    • Address the delays in responding to reports of missing Indigenous women and girls.
    • Address institutional racism within law enforcement agencies and the links to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the correctional system.
    • Address the conduct of police officers towards Indigenous women, girls and their families.
    • Address the sexual exploitation and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls and their causes and consequences.
    • Review and address the breakdown in communications between families and law enforcement investigative processes, especially between urban and rural or remote locations.

Criminal justice system

  • The inquiry should:
    • Address institutional racism within correctional services and the justice system, including any links to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the correctional system.
    • Examine the failure of the criminal justice system to respond to and deal with individual cases.
    • Review legislation that may contribute to the violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls.
    • Review the representation of Indigenous people (Inuit, First Nations and Métis) who hold positions of authority in the justice system, including judges and prosecutors.
    • Explore the role and practice of Indigenous legal systems, knowledge and traditions to support women and their families and communities to address gender-based violence.

Systemic issues and legacies

  • The inquiry should:
    • Examine the role the social and economic marginalization of Indigenous women and girls has on making them vulnerable to violence, cycles of poverty, homelessness, addiction, reliance on prostitution, and disproportionately high rates of incarceration.
    • Address the systemic predominance of Indigenous male political leadership at the expense of Indigenous women's autonomous leadership, including the lack of funding for women's organizations.  
    • Identify the causes and consequences of the historical sexual exploitation and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, including sexual stereotyping.
    • Assess the intergenerational effects of violence as a result of the Indian Residential Schools and the "60s-Scoop."
    • Consider the historical links to organized crime including prostitution, gangs, human trafficking and drugs.
    • Assess the legacy of colonialism and discriminatory and racist laws.

Specific Research and Actions

  • Implement existing recommendations from previous inquiries and commissions, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action, as well as the studies and reports produced by Indigenous organizations regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.  
  • Support and adequately fund culturally sensitive social services for Indigenous women and girls and their families, including rape crisis centres, safe houses and shelters, and trauma and grief counselling.
  • Provide services and education funds especially designed for the children of missing and murdered women. 
  • Educate the Canadian public, including both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, on the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada on issues such as racism and discrimination and dispelling myths and stereotypes.
  • Include a public education mandate for the inquiry to educate the public, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, about what is being learned and revealed about violence against Indigenous women and the harm it causes.
  • Provide a dedicated 24-hour free response line with trained staff or volunteers to answer questions and provide support to survivors, families and loved ones. 
  • Implement preventative measures and practical solutions to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls.
  • Examine ways to incorporate Indigenous legal knowledge into the inquiry to address gendered violence.

Cultural practices and supports

The need for professional mental health counselling and community-based, trauma-sensitive cultural and health supports for survivors, families, and loved ones throughout the inquiry and afterwards is seen as critical to an effective process and to mitigate potential re-victimization.

  • The inquiry should provide a wide variety of cultural, spiritual and religious supports that reflect the diversity of all participants and regions and include the oversight and support of elders (including prayers, smudging, drumming, singing, Qulliq lighting, sacred fires, round dances, potlatches, water ceremonies, medicine wheels, and pipe ceremonies).
  • Elders should be regularly consulted on cultural and ceremonial practices that conform to the traditions and protocols of the region in which the inquiry's proceedings are held.
  • Cultural ceremonies should be open to everyone and include representation from Indigenous women, youth, and communities. They should also include healing and celebration ceremonies.
  • The inquiry's respect for the local and traditional practices should extend to allowing community members to prepare and to provide traditional food.
  • Health supports that are culturally sensitive and appropriate must be available at all stages of participation including aftercare. Trained professionals and elders, along with existing support workers, should be available to participants.
  • The support of family and community networks should be encouraged to promote individual and community healing.
  • Special consideration should be given to identifying the needs of children of victims and ensuring that they have the necessary and appropriate health supports and protection.

5. Conclusion

The pre-inquiry consultations have raised hopes for a national inquiry that will result in concrete actions to end violence against Indigenous women,girls, and trans and two-spirit people. Many participants expressed gratitude to the Government for taking their concerns seriously and listening carefully to their stories. The pre-inquiry engagement has helped to begin a process of reconciliation and is a first step towards healing and addressing a long-standing national tragedy.

After hearing from so many stakeholders, it has become clear that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and communities are looking for systemic change as well as justice for victims and families. Their diverse voices sound as one in calling for the inquiry to address the underlying causes of violence.

The many people and organizations that spoke up during these consultations also want to see reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. They largely agree that reconciliation rests on understanding the effects of racism and discrimination and respecting Indigenous culture and its contributions to Canada.

As the Government of Canada, we share the commitment to making sure the inquiry gets all of this right, for the spirits and the memory of those we have lost, and to help prevent more tragedies in the future. We are grateful to the survivors, families and loved ones who showed great courage and strength in sharing their experiences and views during this first phase of the inquiry. Their contributions—combined with those of the other parties who attended meetings or submitted their views to us—will ensure we design an inquiry that is meaningful and helps move us toward a new relationship built on respect and partnership.

Appendix  – Pre-inquiry engagement meetings

With survivors, families and loved ones

With other stakeholders – provinces, territories, National Aboriginal Organizations, non-governmental and international organizations, Indigenous leaders, scholars and legal experts

National Aboriginal Organizations, provinces and territories
(December 16, 2015, Ottawa, Ontario)

This meeting provided the opportunity for the Ministers of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, of Department of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and Status of Women, and the Deputy Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, to hear the views of National Aboriginal Organizations and provincial and territorial governments regarding the design of the inquiry.  All participants expressed strong support for, and commitment to, the inquiry and offered their assistance to the process. The focus on families as well as healing, education and the need to bridge social and economic gaps were strong themes throughout the meeting

British Columbia Coalition on Missing and Murdered Women and Girls
(January 12, 2016, Vancouver, British Columbia)

The British Columbian Coalition on Missing and Murdered Women includes family members of missing and murdered women, front-line, Indigenous and human rights groups. The Coalition met with the Minister in January to provide input on the design of the inquiry. The Coalition emphasized the need for a rights based approach to the National Inquiry. The Coalition also expressed a recommendation that the issues and scope of the inquiry should be broad enough to examine the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Symposium on Planning for Change – Towards a National inquiry and an Effective National Action Plan
(January 30-31, 2016, Ottawa, Ontario)

This symposium, hosted by the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (and the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law) brought together international human rights experts, Indigenous women leaders, frontline organizations and family members to discuss the scope, mandate and design of the inquiry. Following the meeting, symposium participants released 22 recommendations regarding the design and implementation of the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. The Symposium emphasized and prioritized gender and racialized violence as a critical element for the inquiry to addresses. The Symposium also recommended that the inquiry focus on Indigenous women and girls.

Roundtable on Commissions of inquiry
(February 6, 2016, Toronto, Ontario)

Osgoode Law School hosted a roundtable on commissions of inquiry.  More than 40 experts who had participated, in various ways, in over 20 previous commissions and inquiries attended. Family members and representatives of leading service and advocacy organizations in the Indigenous community and civil society and academic experts on inquiries, also participated in the roundtable.

The roundtable discussions focused on sharing lessons from past inquiries and commissions.  A key issue discussed was how the inquiry should be structured to deliver concrete results. Other areas of discussion included, how to coordinate the federal and provincial law enforcement offices that will have to cooperate for the inquiry to be a success, how to deal with both systemic and individual issues, how and whether to incorporate perpetrators in the scope of the inquiry and how to advance healing and reconciliation.

British Columbia Coalition on Murdered and Missing Women and Girls
(February 13, 2016, Vancouver, British Columbia)

In response to the invitation to participate in the pre-inquiry process, the Coalition met with the Minister in February to set out their key recommendations for the inquiry, focusing on responses to the nine questions in the pre-inquiry discussion guide. 

2nd Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
(February 26, 2016, Winnipeg, Manitoba)

The National Roundtable in Winnipeg on February 2016 brought together families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Indigenous representative organizations, all provinces and territories and the federal government.  The roundtable is a vital forum for governments of all levels to collaborate on this issue. At the second meeting, all Canadian provinces and territories agreed to participate fully in the National Inquiry.

Roundtable on Indigenous Law and Legal Knowledge
(March 12, 2016, Toronto, Ontario)

This meeting brought together Indigenous law experts from across Canada to discuss ways to incorporate Indigenous legal systems into the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Experts discussed issues, principles and practices relating to Indigenous law systems with a view to ensuring that the inquiry not confine itself to a rigid and colonial notion of the appropriate legal orders to be used for addressing issues relating to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The conference attendees discussed what measures would be effective to ensure that the inquiry integrate a plurality of Indigenous legal systems to address gendered violence.

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