CBC News
Left, Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould lay out their plans on how the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women will proceed. Step one is consultation with the families.

Canada Announces Long-Awaited Inquiry Into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women

Cara McKenna

The Canadian government will begin its long-sought-for inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls by meeting with victims’ family members, ministers have announced.

Officials will go on to consult with experts, aboriginal organizations and lower levels of government to design and focus the inquiry before its full launch next year.

The federal ministers of indigenous affairs, justice and status of women outlined the first phase of the inquiry in the House of Commons foyer on Tuesday, just a few hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the Assembly of First Nations National Assembly, the first time in 40 years the head of government has done so.

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Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the consultations will determine the scope and parameters of the inquiry, as well as possible commissioners and the role of families and ceremony in the process. She said ministers will start meeting with victims’ family members in Ottawa as soon as Friday December 11. An online component with more information and a survey is also in the works.

“Over the coming weeks our aim is to hear from as many people as possible,” Bennett said. “We will get this right for the spirits and memories of those we have lost.”

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould reiterated Bennett’s commitment to ending the tragedy.

“No inquiry, as we know, can undo what happened, nor can it restore what we’ve lost,” Wilson-Raybould said. “But it can help us find ways forward because we know, as a country, we can and must do better.”

Before the announcement, Algonquin elder Claudette Commanda led a moment of silence for Canada’s more than 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women, including 25-year-old Christy Crane, who died after being found seriously injured on a gravel road south of Edmonton on Sunday December 6.

“We pause to reflect today on the serious and tragic incidents that continue to occur,” Commanda said. “Incidents like the discovery and the death of a young indigenous woman in Alberta just recently, this week. Our thoughts and our sympathies are with her family, her community and her friends.”

After the announcement, a number of indigenous groups voiced strong support for both the national inquiry and the consultations.

The inquiry will provide closure for families while showing “that racism is alive and well in Canada,” said Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee in a statement. “Solutions need to be brought forward and we believe that public education and education in schools is one of the answers to this problem.”

The inquiry is “a long time coming,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

“We have always said the families and individuals impacted by violence against women be central to immediate action and a national inquiry,” Bellegarde said. “After years of denial and deflection, it is my hope we can make real strides in achieving justice for families and achieving safety and security for all our people.”

Meanwhile, the British Columbia government said it will be making its own announcement in the coming weeks involving improved transportation along the so-called Highway of Tears, where at least 18 women have gone missing or been murdered since the 1970s. The provincial ministry of transportation held a symposium on the issue in Smithers on November 24, and more developments are coming, the province said.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau told an AFN chiefs’ gathering in Gatineau, Quebec, that a national inquiry was one of his government’s top priorities.

“The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to heal and to be heard,” Trudeau said. “We must work together to put an end to this ongoing tragedy.”

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