Inquiry design meeting #18: February 14-15, 2016, Ottawa, Ontario
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls held its eighteenth and final engagement meeting in Ottawa, on Sunday and Monday, February 14-15, 2016. This pre-inquiry meeting included survivors, families and loved ones. Their experiences, views and contributions will contribute to the design of the inquiry.
A summary of the meeting is provided below. The summary is not a complete account of the discussions. Instead, it highlights the key themes that emerged from this engagement meeting. Read a copy of the discussion guide used at this meeting.
From the outset, the Government's priority has been to ensure the design of the inquiry is informed by the perspectives and views of those most affected – Indigenous women and girls who have survived violence, and the families and loved ones of those that have been murdered or have gone missing.
The Ottawa meeting, held on February 14-15, 2016, was the final engagement meeting with family members, loved ones and survivors. Originally intended to capture those in the broader Ottawa/Gatineau area who were unable to attend the first meeting on December 8, 2015, attendance at this final event was broadened to provide the opportunity for participants from Newfoundland and Labrador, the North and from elsewhere in Canada, who were unable to attend other events.
This event was well attended with more than 280 participants. Given the large numbers in attendance, the meeting was split into two sessions, an Inuit/Northern session and a First Nation/Métis session, to ensure participants had an opportunity to share their perspectives.
As with the earlier meetings, the first day was a preparation day for participants with orientation sessions and a sharing circle where survivors, families and loved ones shared their personal experiences associated with violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The second day was primarily focused to how the inquiry should be designed. The day opened with wise words from Elders and traditional ceremony. Welcoming speeches from the Ministers followed. Participants acknowledged and honoured the women and girls who were murdered and who are still missing. Prayers were also offered for those most affected by these tragedies. To ensure the well-being of participants, health support workers, including Indigenous elders, from Health Canada were available at the meetings and over-night to provide additional cultural and emotional support.
While participants in the Inuit/Northern session shared experiences of tragedy and loss, many also expressed hope for the inquiry and for their future. Of utmost concern to the Inuit session participants was the need be treated with respect and to be equal to all Canadians as well as to be provided with the supports necessary to help them heal. The First Nation/Métis session emphasized a need to examine the practices of justice and child welfare systems.
Ending their two-day session, the Inuit/Northern session participants closed with a lighting of candles to honour the memory of those that are gone and the singing of Amazing Grace in Inuktitut. The First Nation/Métis session concluded with drumming and a handshake circle.
Survivors, families and loved ones of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls attended the pre-inquiry meetings. There were also representatives of front-line organizations. Also in attendance were:
- The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, who attended primarily the Inuit/Northern session
- The Hon. Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women who was present during the First Nation/Métis session
Elders were present to provide a safe and supportive environment for discussions. Departmental officials were in attendance to listen and observe.
Leadership and participation
Two questions were asked about who should lead and who should take part in the Inquiry. The views on leadership included the need to have:
- First Nations, Inuit and Métis representation
- Indigenous commissioners with knowledge of the issues and an understanding of the justice system
- balance of women and men
- recognized regional leaders
Participants also identified which groups should have a chance to take part in the inquiry:
- families, children, loved ones of the victims – and families of perpetrators
- survivors of violence as well as women and girls who are at risk
- representatives of front-line/grass roots organizations that work with victims of violence
- social, health and counseling services
- Indigenous national and community organizations
- police, including Indigenous police officers
- experts and advocates
Participants stressed the importance of involving survivors, families and loved ones. To make this possible, participants said the inquiry must:
- ensure involvement and early communication with participants at all times throughout the inquiry
- be flexible, meaningful and respectful
- visit communities directly to ensure full participation from remote locations
- involve community and social media to get messages out
- provide a culturally safe space and social services for participants
- ensure that appropriate translation is provided
- provide assistance to enable participation, including financial assistance and childcare
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified the issues the inquiry must address if it is to produce recommendations for specific actions. These issues include:
- judicial system and policing and law enforcement policies and practices
- review of investigations into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
- coronial practices and policies
- health and other essential services/supports to victims of violence and to families and loved ones – particularly in remote communities
- the child welfare system
- children at risk
- underlying causes, including impacts of poverty, addictions and lack of housing on vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls
- the impact of past policies such as residential schools
- systemic inequity between treatment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – including racism, cultural ignorance and discrimination in accessing services
Participants want the inquiry's final report to include recommendations for specific actions including:
- judicial, police and government accountability – increased transparency and accountability mechanisms
- improved justice and police education, understanding and cultural sensitivity with regard Indigenous issues and people
- improved access to and provision of healing, health and trauma supports/centres – particularly in remote and northern communities
- creation of special investigations teams/units specifically for Indigenous women and girls – implement an Amber alert system for Indigenous women and girls
- actions to help break the cycles of violence
Support and cultural practices
Participants emphasized the need to include and respect traditional practices and ceremonies in the inquiry process. The inquiry must also include healing processes to acknowledge and address the trauma felt by those affected.
Recommendations about how to include cultural practices and ceremony include:
- opening and closing ceremonies
- promote healing practices and hold appropriate healing ceremonies
- respecting uniqueness of each community
- calling upon Elders and spiritual leaders for advice and blessings
As well as discussing the questions listed in the discussion guide, participants were invited to share other comments and views on the design of the inquiry. These include:
- the inquiry needs to have a clear mandate and defined parameters
- the inquiry needs to look at the justice system
- need to choose the Commissioner(s) carefully – needs to be someone who can be trusted
- respect for one another is important
- don't rush, do this right
- re-visit cold cases with updated technology and resources