Coalition Demands Action on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Makes Preliminary Recommendations for National Inquiry
November 9, 2015
Coalition Demands Action on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and
Girls and Makes Preliminary Recommendations for National Inquiry
(Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver, B.C. – November 9, 2015) A Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is holding a press conference this morning to advise the public that British Columbia has failed to make significant progress on many of the recommendations from the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI) and continues to ignore international recommendations from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Given their experience with the MWCI, the Coalition is making preliminary recommendations to the newly elected Trudeau Government for the National Inquiry which Prime Minister Trudeau promised would start immediately.
For decades, Indigenous women and supporting organizations called for an inquiry into the disappearances of the many marginalized women from BC. Unfortunately, the MWCI led by Wally Oppal in 2012 was a deeply and systemically flawed and frustrating process that repeated the same discrimination and exclusion which we hoped it was going to uncover.
Of the 56 MWCI recommendations aimed at BC, many are unimplemented or “in progress,” and there is no ongoing accountability from the Province on work that remains to be done. To the contrary, the Province publicly said in 2014 that they would no longer be providing any updates on the recommendations, and BC Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton advised the Coalition on May 4, 2015, that “no further action is being contemplated.” Minister Anton continues to ignore our requests for full implementation of both MWCI and IACHR recommendations, and for a genuine accountability process to oversee and evaluate change and progress.
One of the critical and outstanding recommendations from the MWCI, the Highway of Tears Symposium, and the IACHR is to create accessible transportation along the Highway of Tears (Highway 16) in Northern BC. The Coalition is absolutely appalled that the Privacy Commissioner of BC recently confirmed that the BC Government deleted emails from family and communities about the Highway of Tears instead of responding appropriately to a freedom of information request, and instead of responding to the repeated and important recommendations to address this issue.
We request that the Province review Highway of Tears transportation options with affected communities and jointly create a fully funded plan that will be announced prior to the Gathering for Family Members of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls planned for March 2016 in Prince George. We strongly emphasize the need to address the systemic issues of poverty, racism, and the inter-generational impacts of Residential Schools, leading to the alarmingly high rate of murdered and disappeared women along the Highway of Tears. We also ask the Province to provide ongoing funding for the Highway of Tears Initiative.
Importantly, the Coalition is drawing on the respective and collective experience of its member organizations and individuals to recommend that the National Inquiry promised by the newly elected Trudeau government begin by establishing a pre-inquiry consultation process. Such a process should be inclusive of Indigenous women and communities and related organizations, and should establish the mandate and parameters of the inquiry, criteria for appointments of Commissioners and staff, processes for participation, initial areas of research, and resource requirements and commitments. It will be critical to review different models of inquiries. Further, the National Inquiry must consult thoroughly at every stage with Indigenous women and communities and related organizations, a recommendation made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its January 2015 report after reviewing the MWCI.
We are completely resolute that the National Inquiry cannot in any way repeat the mistakes of the BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. Importantly, any recommendations coming out of a National Inquiry must be accompanied by a fully funded implementation plan, which was absent from both the MWCI and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. We are calling on the Trudeau Government to fulfil its commitment to a National Inquiry by establishing a genuine and transparent pre-inquiry consultation so that the National Inquiry truly results in improving the safety of Indigenous women and girls, and achieves justice for those who have been murdered or disappeared.
The Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls initially came together in response to the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in British Columbia overseen by Commissioner Wally Oppal. Unfortunately the groups who formed the Coalition were shut out of the inquiry; however, the Coalition continues to meet regularly to pursue justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and has grown in number and strength.
1. Summary of MWCI Recommendations and Implementation, compiled by the Coalition (Nov 5, 2015)
2. Coalition correspondence to Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Wilson-Raybould, Minister Bennett, and Minister Hajdu regarding recommendations for National Inquiry (Nov 9, 2015)
For further information:
Amnesty International Canada, Craig Benjamin, (613) 744-7667, ext. 235
Atira Housing, Janice Abbott, (604) 331-1420
Battered Women’s Support Services, Angela Marie MacDougall, (604) 808-0507
BC Assembly of First Nations, Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson, (250) 318-8527
BC Civil Liberties Association, Josh Paterson, (778) 829-8973
Butterflies in Spirit, Lorelei Williams, (778) 709-6498
Carrier Sekani Family Services, Mary Teegee, (250) 612-8710
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Tribal Chief Terry Teegee, (250) 640-3256
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Alice Kendall, (604) 681-8480
Ending Violence Association of BC, Christina Entrekin Coad, (604) 633-2506, ext. 13
February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee, Fay Blaney, (778) 714-0161
First Nations Summit, Colin Braker, (604) 328-4094
First United Church, Genesa Greening, (604) 681-8365
Lookout Emergency Aid Society, Shayne Williams, (604) 255-0340
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Neskonlith Indian Band, Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, (250) 319-7383
PACE: Providing Alternatives Counselling & Education Society, Laura Dilley, (604) 872-7651
PHS Community Services Society, Patrick Smith, (604) 779-6837
Pivot Legal Society, Kevin Hollett, (778) 848-3420
Poverty and Human Rights Centre, Shelagh Day, (604) 872-0750
RainCity Housing, Amelia Ridgway, (604) 662-7023
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, (250) 490-5314
Vancouver Council of Women, Rosemary Mallory, (604) 985-0878
Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre Society, Lillian Howard, (604) 253-9575
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, Keira Smith-Tague, (604) 872-8212
Union Gospel Mission, Derek Weiss, (604) 253-3323
West Coast LEAF, Kendra Milne, (604) 684-8772
WISH Drop-in Centre Society, Mebrat Beyene, (604) 669-9474
Women Against Violence Against Women, Irene Tsepnopoulous-Elhaimer, (604) 255-6228 ext 229
Ceejai Julien, family member, (778)251-0727
Beverley Jacobs, Jacobs Law, (778) 877-7402
Summary of MWCI Recommendations & Implementation
Compiled by the Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Sources of Information:
Forsaken (report of the MCWI), Executive Summary, November 2012
VPD Administrative Report, January 2013 (Doug Lepard)
Safety and Security of Vulnerable Women in BC (BC response to MWCI recommendations), March 2014
A Final Status Update Report in Response to: Forsaken – The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (BC response to MWCI recommendations), December 2014 http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/public_inquiries/docs/MWCI_Report_2014.pdf
Main entities targeted by recommendations:
- Attorney General/Crown Prosecution Services
- Police forces
- Healing and reconciliation, including specifically for families
- Changes to policing to increase sensitivity to and protection for vulnerable women (for example, training)
- Changes to investigations, how charges are laid, and how victims are supported
- Changes to missing persons policing
- Changes to coordination between police forces
It is difficult to assess with any accuracy how far the Province’s actions go in responding to the MWCI recommendations. Forsaken recommended appointing an independent champion to steward the process of change after the MWCI closed. With the resignation of the Honourable Steven Point, there has been no one to fulfill this crucial oversight role. Many projects are described by the Province as “ongoing” or “in progress,” but with no further report from the Province anticipated, there is no accountability mechanism to measure the success of their implementation.
At least some of the achievements reported on by the Province as satisfying the MWCI recommendations are actually the work of other programs, some of them predating the MWCI.
Of the projects that have been undertaken directly in response to MWCI, some are clearly not in keeping with the spirit of the original recommendations. As an example, a number of the recommendations concerned cultural competency training for police and service providers, conducted by experiential people and members of Indigenous communities, as a means of building understanding between police and community members. The Province has responded to this by extending the use of an online tool, originally developed for health care providers, for use by others. This is not a satisfactory response to the communities that are owed bias-free policing. Not surprisingly, members of these communities complain that little has changed in their relations with police forces.
The Provinces’ response to Urgent Measure #2 concerning Highway of Tears deserves special mention. While the Province has claimed that its work there is ongoing, that “work” has amounted to the creation of a website and a small grant for driver’s education training. In the meantime, not only is there no evidence of progress on an improved transportation system on Highway 16, critical emails about consultations with communities have been destroyed.
These responses are unacceptable and reinforce the conviction that the Province is not truly committed to work to ensure the safety and uphold the dignity of Indigenous women and girls.
Note: The VPD expressed its support for the vast majority of recommendations directed specifically at police; however, in many cases, it is not clear whether these recommendations have been actively implemented.
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RE: Coalition on MMIWG Recommendations for National Inquiry
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Ministers:
We extend our sincere congratulations on your election and appointments to a new Cabinet. We thank you for your campaign commitments to advance justice and equality and to set a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. We write today about your promise to establish a national public inquiry on murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls, which is a crucial step towards creating a just society for Indigenous women and girls, their families and communities.
The Coalition on Missing and Murdered Women formed when the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was appointed in British Columbia in 2010, although many of the members of the Coalition, such as the February 14th Memorial March, have been working to bring public attention to the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls for more than 25 years. The Coalition is comprised of front-line women’s organizations, Indigenous organizations and human rights organizations, which all have established expertise and experience working with Indigenous women and their families on the issues surrounding the crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
We write today with a specific request with respect to the implementation of your commitment to a national inquiry: a pre-inquiry consultation process must be established in order to ensure that the inquiry is designed, in advance, in a way that will allow it to successfully meet its goals and improve safety for Indigenous women and girls in Canada. In particular, this pre-inquiry consultation process should establish the mandate and parameters of the inquiry, criteria for appointments of Commissioners and staff, processes for participation, initial areas of research, and resource requirements and commitments.
We stress the importance of pre-inquiry consultation because we have learned from the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in BC, which was a dismal failure. The mandate of the BC inquiry was too narrow to address the root causes of the problem before it. In addition, the BC inquiry process effectively excluded key organizations, such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who could speak to the lives and deaths of the women it was ostensibly designed to consider, as well as Indigenous and civil society organizations with crucial expertise about the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls and its real effects on families and communities. The families of the women who were murdered by Robert William Pickton received only token representation and support, and many families felt left out of any meaningful participation in the process.
The failure of the BC inquiry and the necessity for meaningful pre-inquiry planning are well established. Some members of the Coalition wrote a report after this dismaying experience, entitled Blueprint for an Inquiry: Learning from the Failures of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry,1 which sets out a number of necessary considerations for future inquiries and states:
If there were only one recommendation to come from this report, it would be that commissions of inquiry that are called in response to the concerns of marginalized communities, must consult thoroughly at every stage with those communities and the organizations that work with those communities.
In addition, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report in January 2015 entitled Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in British Columbia, Canada,2 which reviewed the work of BC’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. The report stressed the importance of consulting with Indigenous women and communities, noting “[t]heir consultation is crucial for the success of any initiative, especially given the context of historical and structural discrimination.” The Inter-American Commission also supported a national public inquiry with the caveat that Indigenous women must be consulted “at all stages from conception, to establishing terms of reference, implementation and evaluation.”
1 Available online at: http://www.westcoastleaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2012-REPORT-Missing-Women-Commission-of-Inquiry.pdf.
2 Available online at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/indigenous-women-bc-canada-en.pdf.
In summary, we request that your government immediately establish a pre-inquiry process that includes consultation with Indigenous women, families, Indigenous organizations and civil society organizations with knowledge and expertise regarding the elements and procedures that will be necessary to make a national public inquiry effective and meaningful. We enclose a copy of the Blueprint for an Inquiry report, which contains lessons from BC’s inquiry process. Your commitment to a national inquiry is a crucial step towards improving the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and we urge you to take proactive steps to avoid repeating BC’s past mistakes.
We would also like to be included in this pre-inquiry consultation process, and to offer you any and all assistance in this important endeavour. This issue is close to our hearts and is very important to our collective work in seeking justice for murdered and disappeared Indigenous women and girls. Please contact Andrea Glickman, Union of BC Indian Chiefs (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up a meeting.
Amnesty International Canada
Battered Women’s Support Services
BC Assembly of First Nations
BC Civil Liberties Association
Butterflies in Spirit
Carrier Sekani Family Services
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
Ending Violence Association of BC
February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee
First Nations Summit
First United Church
Lookout Emergency Aid Society
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Neskonlith Indian Band
PACE: Providing Alternatives Counselling & Education Society
PHS Community Services Society
Pivot Legal Society
Poverty and Human Rights Centre
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs
Vancouver Council of Women
Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre Society
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
Union Gospel Mission
West Coast LEAF
WISH Drop-in Centre Society
Women Against Violence Against Women