There are dozens of reports containing hundreds of recommendations gathering dust on shelves, while the MMIW inquiry haplessly spins its wheels and descends into bickering
It has become apparent that the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is at risk of going off the rails. Established last September to investigate systemic causes of violence against Canadian Indigenous women and girls, the inquiry’s image has been hurt by a series of high-profile personnel departures, public condemnations by vocal Aboriginal critics (including Justice Minister Jody-Wilson Raybould’s father), and little to no progress in commencing hearings. As a recent article by the National Post’s Maura Forrest made clear, many now view the inquiry as completely illegitimate and dysfunctional.
“It lacks leadership. I think (Chief Commissioner) Marion Buller, she’s a lovely person, but she doesn’t have the skills, the management skills,” one source told Forrest. Forrest further noted, “disagreements between commissioners and employees have spawned factions, power struggles and inertia within the inquiry. ‘It’s high school, it really is. … It’s dysfunctional, and it’s not because they don’t care. They do care, they just don’t know how to do it.’”
Unfortunately, such dysfunction was always foreseeable. It was also avoidable.
Unfortunately, the inquiry’s dysfunction was always foreseeable. It was also avoidable
The National Post warned from the beginning that an inquiry was no way to address the serious problem of violence against Aboriginals, and Indigenous women in particular. We have all known all along that too many Indigenous women and men live in conditions that make them especially vulnerable to violence.
The need for law enforcement to better protect these vulnerable people is abundantly clear. In October 2016, the RCMP oversight agency known as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission completed a two-year investigation into the conduct of officers in northern British Columbia. The commission was established to understand how the RCMP had failed to protect Indigenous women and girls in that region, and has developed recommendations for addressing systemic problems in its procedures and practices.
And in 2014, the RCMP released its own report, entitled Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview, which covers many of the issues the inquiry was established to address.
The inquiry was not really expected to unearth new causes or solutions
Meanwhile, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission spoke directly to the social causes behind the particular vulnerability of Aboriginals, offering 94 recommendations to help remedy the legacy of Canada’s residential schools, which contributed to so much social breakdown on so many reserves.
So the MMIW inquiry was not really expected to unearth new causes or solutions. Rather, its primary function was to provide an outlet for the families of victims to voice their pain and anger, and achieve some measure of healing.
But when this is the goal, it cannot be a surprise that it is impossible to satisfy all parties. Justice can mean many different things to different people. Aggrieved families will each have different views on who ought to be consulted and on what terms. Thus, it is entirely unsurprising to see so many people expressing dissatisfaction with how the inquiry is being run.
Justice can mean many different things to different people
In this respect, the inquiry highlights the danger of the largely symbolic, if well-intentioned, gestures of which this government is so fond. Such actions often end up being costly, while opening up more divisions than they close.
Take, for example, the government’s recent efforts to promote Indigenous inclusion and recognition in its Canada 150 celebrations. The government’s seemingly hasty decision to turn the former United States Embassy building into an Indigenous centre was dismissed by many Aboriginal leaders on the grounds that the building was “not a culturally appropriate space.” Now, some groups are calling for a building that will not be a mere “hand-me-down,” to use the words of the Indigenous Task Force of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.
Earlier in its mandate, the government also reneged on its promise to enact the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—presumably after it became apparent that it would be utterly unworkable to incorporate the UNDRIP into Canadian law. The Liberals could have avoided disappointing a lot of people if they had never made this grand, symbolic promise in the first place.
The inquiry highlights the danger of the largely symbolic, if well-intentioned, gestures of which this government is so fond
Given that the Liberal government won so much easy credit for offering little more than gestures on this file, it seems just that they’re now struggling to catch a single break. Perhaps, having been chastened by these flops, it will now see value in taking tangible action.
It could be done, and immediately. As we noted in a 2015 editorial, “58 reports (have already) contained plenty of very common-sense recommendations: Improved data-gathering …; better access to transportation, shelters and safe housing; and improved relations with police. … (B)oth aboriginal and non-aboriginal leaders have spoken of the need for comprehensive improvement in aboriginal Canadians’ lives: better and less crowded housing, education improvement, fighting addictions, job opportunities.”
Two years later, we’re no further ahead and this government isn’t meaningfully helping. There are dozens of reports containing hundreds of recommendations gathering dust on shelves in Ottawa, while the planned inquiry haplessly spins its wheels and descends into pointless bickering. If we want to protect and improve lives, enough with the gestures. Start fixing the problems.