The federal government’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is preparing to get underway in September.
With five commissioners led by B.C. judge Marion Buller and a budget that has swelled by a third to $54 million before it even starts, this inquiry has one big advantage over all the previous studies of Canada’s intractable problems of poverty and violence in aboriginal communities.
In this case, the politicians all agree what the outcome is going to be. They’ve been saying so for months, since the Justin Trudeau government got elected on this and other passionate, if questionable, promises.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai Nation on the B.C. coast, a former Crown prosecutor and chair of the B.C. Treaty Commission, announced the terms of reference last week. She stressed that the inquiry will not attempt to retry cold cases, but to examine the “root causes” of the high numbers of missing and murdered women.
Next up was Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, who has no doubt at all what those “root causes” are: racism, sexism and the lingering effects of colonialism. Bennett has been meeting steadily with grieving families since being appointed, and now accepts that racist, indifferent cops are the main “root cause.”
Bennett explained this conclusion from New York in April, while attending a “Women of the World” summit. It’s an “uneven application of justice,” she told The Globe and Mail, a phrase we’ll hear again and again.
“You end up with people who have been told it’s an overdose, or a suicide or an accident,” Bennett said.
RCMP have reported close to 1,200 unsolved cases of murdered or missing indigenous women since 1980, a figure that Bennett scoffs at. What’s her evidence? She’s talked to families, and knows it’s “way more” than that.
One of the previous inquiries was by a United Nations official, James Anaya, in 2014. He noted the alarming statistics of education outcome and violent offences against women, and referred to 660 cases documented by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. He also described being besieged by demands for a national inquiry, as he went through the stacks of studies that have already been done.
“Since 1996,” Anaya wrote in his UN report, “there have been at least 29 official inquiries and reports dealing with aspects of this issue, which have resulted in over 500 recommendations for action.”
As the latest inquiry was being launched, Perry Bellegarde, the current Assembly of First Nations national chief, recited Bennett’s speaking points about the conclusions it will reach.
Bellegarde told CTV the problem is vastly under-reported because “…oh, it’s an accidental death. Oh, it’s a suicide.” Then he called for more money for housing and other programs from the failed Indian Act system.
There are several glaring factors that apparently will not be discussed, because they fall outside the politically correct boundaries of this pre-determined narrative.
One is the even more alarming number of aboriginal men and boys who are victims of violent crime.
Another is the rate of domestic abuse reported by indigenous women, which Statistics Canada estimated this year at about 10 per cent of their population. That’s three times the national average, but it was not mentioned amid the demands for justice at the inquiry.
Another key issue that is forbidden from discussion is the social and economic viability of remote communities. Some of them haven’t been able to maintain clean water and safe housing, much less education and employment, despite billions in spending every year.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.