The federal government, on Thursday, released its action plan full of promises in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The long-awaited 30-paged document has been two years in the making, but advocates say it still comes up short and lacks critical details.
At the heart of concerns is the absence of an actual implementation plan when it comes to the document.
“Last year, we were disappointed. We didn’t have a plan. This year we have a plan without implementation plan,” said Lynne Groulx, CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
“We’re very concerned that it’s half of a document.”
The “federal pathway” document outlines the Liberal government’s planned steps to address the 2019 inquiry’s 231 calls to justice that includes commitments to provide funding, or enhance existing funding, toward a number of programs and initiatives in four thematic areas: culture, health and wellness, human safety and security and justice.
While announcing the action plan on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also promised $2.2 billion in new spending to help implement proposal’s objectives and improve Indigenous language, culture, infrastructure, health and policing.
But Groulx said the steps outlined by the federal government were vague, and didn’t meet the calls for action set out by the national inquiry. As a result, she said the NWAC has made the decision to call on the United Nations to investigate how Canada is “dealing with this genocide.”
“That document needed to follow very closely the instructions provided by the national inquiry in the call for justice 1.1, which says that the initiatives need to be clearly set out with timelines, budgets, who is responsible so that we can clearly follow up on those calls for justice,” said Groulx. “We don’t see that in that document.”
Without a clear timeline to hold the federal government accountable, Groulx added it could take years for the government to begin implementing its action plan.
“How could we ask the families, how could we ask the women to continue to wait? It’s already been two years since the report was handed down with the declaration of genocide,” she said.
Marion Buller, former chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into MMIWG, echoed Groulx’s remarks.
“As the commissioners and I said in our statement issued last year this time, the passage of time is working against everybody because indigenous women and girls… are dying and the work has to be done promptly,” she said.
“Personally, yes, I am disappointed that it’s taken this long, but it is what it is.”
Buller said she would’ve liked to have seen some dollars and cents allocated to specific projects and planning, noting the absence of a specific time for an actual implementation plan.
“I hope at some point, in conjunction with families and survivors and their guidance, there’ll be some dollar amounts allocated for decolonization and implementation of our calls for justice,” she said.
The action plan also comes on the heels of a grim discovery as unmarked burial sites of 215 children were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia last Thursday, spurring further calls for action and accountability.
Facing criticism over the lack of timelines and funding for the national action plan and the related federal contribution announced Thursday, Indigenous-Crown Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett vowed to announce the implementation plan for the federal pathway later this year.
“We really do look forward to working with the family and survivors circle, who I know has committed to working forward with us and so that we can move on implementation and move on working with our partners to end the violence against Indigenous women and girls and two spirited and gender diverse people,” she said.
But for some survivors of Canada’s residential schools and the families of the missing and murdered, the action plan is not enough.
It isn’t enough for John Fox of Wiikwemkoong First Nation.
His daughter, Cheyenne Fox, mysteriously plummeted to her death from a 24-storey building in Toronto in 2013. Police found no criminal activity linked to her death, but her father believes she was murdered.
Fox said an investigation into whether his daughter was lured into human trafficking that led to her death has been temporarily put on pause due to the costs of litigating the police and attorney general, but another investigation into whether Cheyenne was raped at a women’s shelter in Toronto is still ongoing.
“It doesn’t seem to be moving along at all,” he said of the ongoing investigation.
“That’s what I’m finding out, and I think that’s what’s been happening with this with these issues with missing and murdered women, girls. They’re just kind of being left on the back burner.”
After reading through the federal government’s action plan, Fox said he felt “disappointed” that it didn’t specifically discuss actions justice issues including police accountability, the human trafficking of Indigenous women and girls or for the pain caused by the country’s residential schools.
“Our parents didn’t know how to tell us how they love us, they didn’t give us the hugs. Instead, they punished us through the Catholic ways, teachings and beliefs.”
— with files from The Canadian Press