Survivors and the families of missing and murdered indigenous women will have eight opportunities to make their voices heard over the next three weeks as a federal inquiry into the widespread violence against First Nations women and girls begins to take shape.
Inquiry design meetings are set to be held in northern Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia and throughout the territories between Jan. 6 and Jan. 22. The minister of Indigenous Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, and Minister of Status of Women, Patty Hajdu, are expected to be in attendance.
The purpose of the meetings is to figure out the form and scope of the eventual inquiry, which could begin later this year. The federal government announced the initial consultation process last month in Ottawa, saying a public inquiry will require input from survivors and families, right from the start.
The federal secretariat in charge of the inquiry has said it sent invitations to local Aboriginal groups across the country to take part in the consultation meetings, asking them to distribute and share the invites with “survivors, families and loved ones.”
But Bill Beauregarde, a community co-ordinator and administrator at Aboriginal Front Door Society in Vancouver, said he didn’t receive any information about the date or time of the upcoming meeting in his community. The Aboriginal Front Door Society works directly with First Nations individuals in the city’s Downtown East Side, considered the country’s most impoverished postal code.
“We’ve had so many women go missing … so many of our people here it’s directly hit them, first hand,” Beauregarde said. “Our executive director is related to a couple of them. And we have another person who does our women’s group, she has a couple of family members. Our old director was directly related. It’s ongoing.”
Beauregarde said he estimates that if people know precisely where and when the Jan. 13 meeting in Vancouver is being held, “a minimum of 40 people” would show up. He added that he wants the government to understand that, from his perspective, an inquiry without the power to prosecute is unlikely to yield results.
“If it’s a criminal inquiry it might have some bite to it,” Beauregarde explained. “They make a whole list of recommendations … and it doesn’t go any further than that. But if it turns into a criminal inquiry, with people being charged, then they have to follow through.”
The meeting schedule for the next three weeks is as follows:
Calls to several other First Nations organizations in those communities were not immediately returned on Monday.
One meeting has already been held in Ottawa, on Dec. 11. Although the consultations are closed to the media (participants must contact the government and register in advance), summaries of what was discussed are being posted to the federal website devoted to the project.
Survivors, family members or loved ones wishing to attend an upcoming meeting can call 1-877-535-7309 or email AADNC.EFFAAD-IMMIWG.AANDC@aadnc-aandc.gc.ca
The Liberal Party platform estimated that a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women would cost $40 million over two years, starting in 2016. Bennett has since suggested that the budget could be in flux.
© 2016 Shaw Media