Launch of Next Phase of National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Speaking Notes for
the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
August 3, 2016
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Thank you, Merci, Meegwetch, Qujanamiik, Marsee and Mahsi Cho.
Thank you, Elder Claudette Commanda for your beautiful prayer, and for welcoming us on traditional Algonquin territory.
Thank you, Gina (Wilson), for emceeing, and the drummers for travelling here to perform today.
I’m proud and thankful to join many partners for today’s announcement.
In particular, I would like to acknowledge the survivors, family members and loved ones here today.
I would also like to acknowledge the leaders of National Indigenous Organizations with us today.
Thank you all for being here.
We are here to mark an important milestone for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The National Inquiry is an important step on our journey of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Today marks the official end of the pre-Inquiry phase.
We are handing all of the input that we received to a national independent commission to lead the formal Inquiry under Part 1 of the Inquiries Act.
This is a significant next step in a long journey.
For me personally, this journey began over a decade ago when I first met with many of the families who are here with us today.
Their stories about their mothers, daughters, aunties and cousins who had tragically gone missing or had been murdered were heart-wrenching.
I remember the powerful Sisters in Spirit honouring ceremonies for the families held at the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) Annual General Assembly.
It is because of these courageous women and families who knew something was very wrong that we are here today.
They knew an inquiry was needed to achieve justice, and healing to put an end to this ongoing terrible tragedy.
Coast to coast to coast, it became painfully clear to many that the high rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls cannot be ignored.
From the early days of the NWAC faceless dolls display, to more recently when, sadly, Tina Fontaine, Loretta Saunders and Rinelle Harper became names that all Canadians understood, represented a pattern of vulnerability and injustice that had to stop.
On December 8th, 2015, we began to take action.
That was when we announced the launch of the Inquiry, and began the pre-Inquiry engagement.
Over the winter and spring, many survivors, family members and loved ones, along with front-line service workers, bravely shared their voices and their thoughts about the design of this Inquiry.
My colleagues the Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Minister of Status of Women and I personally and respectfully listened.
We were humbled and inspired by the candour, wisdom and insight.
From Thunder Bay to Iqaluit, Halifax to Vancouver, there were 18 face-to-face meetings.
More than 2,100 survivors, family members and loved ones participated in these pre-Inquiry engagement sessions.
Online, there were over 4,100 responses to our requests for input.
Sharing their experiences has been so difficult for many.
On behalf of all Canadians, we thank them for their courage and strength.
What we heard was raw and intensely personal.
They left no doubt in our minds about the urgent need to examine the underlying and deep systemic challenges of this violence, including racism, sexism and the sustained impact of colonialism.
Specifically, we heard that policing and child welfare systems need to be examined.
We heard that the Inquiry needs had to have the authority to make recommendations relevant to federal, provincial and territorial responsibility.
We heard many times that the Inquiry needs to be independent from government.
We were told that it should not have a one-size-fits-all approach, and must recognize the diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the regional differences.
We also heard clearly that it should be Indigenous-led and that women should play a major role.
Today, I am very proud to announce that, together with all our partners, we are entering the next phase of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The work of the Commission will be shared amongst five Commissioners.
We have named a Chief Commissioner, the Honourable Marion Buller.
Judge Buller is a person of great moral character whose work I respect and admire.
Her experience as a First Nations judge in the provincial criminal court system has a unique and valuable perspective to the Inquiry.
She exemplifies trauma-informed practice.
Judge Buller will be assisted in her work by four commissioners:
- Michèle Audette;
- Qajaq Robinson;
- Marilyn Poitras; and
- Brian Eyolfson.
These extraordinary individuals bring a depth and mix of personal, academic and professional experiences to the task of listening, documenting and seeking to bring to light the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and to make recommendations for effective action.
They will listen in French, English and Inuktitut, and together will apply human rights, feminist, Indigenous law and traditional knowledge lenses to the extremely difficult examination of the disproportionate violence directed at Indigenous women and girls in this country.
Today is historic.
For the first time in Canadian history, all ten provinces and three territories have formally signed on to a commission of inquiry, which will enable the Commission to do its work without barriers.
Provinces and territories are in the process of passing Orders in Council that will allow this Inquiry to cover matters in their jurisdiction, making this a truly national Inquiry.
As a result, this Commission will have the authority to summon witnesses, as well as compel documents in all jurisdictions.
The Terms of Reference direct the Commissioners first, to explore systemic and underlying causes of violence.
Second, to examine institutional policies and practices designed to address violence against Indigenous women and girls.
This includes police conduct and investigations, as well as child welfare policies and other institutions.
Third, to recommend concrete and effective action in order to remove systemic causes of violence and to increase the safety of Indigenous women and girls.
And finally, to recommend ways to honour and commemorate the Indigenous women and girls who are missing or have been murdered.
We thank the National Indigenous Organizations, frontline and women’s organizations, and all the many partners for the continued collaboration over the winter and spring.
I want to thank all the wise people from across the country who have lent their advice and counsel, especially the former commission and Indigenous law experts that came together through Osgoode Law School.
Most of all, we thank the mothers, daughters, aunties, nieces, cousins and all family members that have continued to advocate and shine a light on this crucial issue.
I am very proud that the Commission’s mandate reflects the diversity of views and voices we heard during the pre-Inquiry process.
The feedback received has guided the development of the mandate of the Commission.
As we promised, as the Commission begins its work, we will not wait to take immediate action on the issues on violence against Indigenous women and girls.
I will turn now to my colleague, Minister Hajdu, who will provide more detail about gender-based violence and its underlying causes, and share her thoughts on this important milestone.
Thank you, Merci, Miigwetch, Marsee, Mahsi Cho, Qujannamiik.
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