This week, West Coast LEAF called on all levels of government to commit to meaningfully address violence against Indigenous women and girls through a robust, effective national inquiry. Following decades of advocacy by Indigenous and women’s rights activists, the federal government finally committed to an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. On Wednesday, August 3, the government released the list of commissioners and the Terms of Reference (TOR) that will set the scope of the Inquiry.
West Coast LEAF is encouraged that the Inquiry is mandated to investigate and address systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls. Building on our Blueprint for an Inquiry report (co-authored with Pivot and BC Civil Liberties Association), the government has taken positive steps to address some of the concerns that arose from the provincial Oppal Inquiry by providing protections for vulnerable witnesses, such as culturally sensitive counselling for survivors. At the same time, we are disappointed by gaps in the TOR, including the lack of clear provincial and territorial commitment, which may undermine the effectiveness and promise of the Inquiry.
We call on all levels of government to commit to fully participating in the Inquiry, including through the disclosure of all information necessary to allow the Inquiry to do its work. Many important areas impacting violence against Indigenous women and girls – regional and municipal policing, child protection, the administration of the justice system – fall within provincial jurisdiction. Unless the provinces and territories commit to full participation and the disclosure of information, the Inquiry may become an empty promise.
As a member of the Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, West Coast LEAF attended a meeting with BC’s Minister of Justice on August 3. At that meeting, Minister Anton indicated that BC plans to pass an order in council in the fall to ensure the province’s participation.
BC’s stated commitment to the Inquiry is hopeful, but we will continue to monitor developments to ensure that the provincial government participates fully and in a transparent and accountable manner.
We are also troubled by the lack of express mention in the TOR of policing and justice system responses to violence against Indigenous women and girls. The TOR allows Commissioners to direct families concerned about ongoing or past investigations back to “appropriate authorities.” Pointing families back to the very authorities whose conduct they are questioning is at best ineffectual and at worst willful carelessness to the concerns raised by families and communities around policing issues.
At the meeting on August 3, the Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called on Minister Anton to create a meaningful and accountable police investigation review process for families in search of justice for Indigenous women and girls.
West Coast LEAF has been a member of the Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls since its inception and will continue to work with the Coalition to ensure that the national inquiry results in meaningful change for Indigenous women and girls in BC.