Photo: Flickr/Christian Peacemaker Teams Aboriginal Justice Team

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The new Liberal government is starting a process to create an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

We do not have a full-blown inquiry yet.

That will take time.

To get things started, three cabinet ministers will engage in consultations with Indigenous leaders, family members, front-line workers and women’s organizations.

The three ministers are Carolyn Bennett at Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Jody Wilson-Raybould at Justice and Patty Hajdu at Status of Women.

They will take their time to put the actual inquiry in place. 

Tuesday’s announcement is a first step. One could not expect much more from a brand new government.

The previous Harper Conservative government had stubbornly resisted calls for such an inquiry, arguing that there had been enough study of the matter, and that the relevant authorities were already acting.

Dealing with cases of murdered and missing women, one by one, was, the Harper folks argued, a matter for the police, not for an expensive and wasteful inquiry.

There is some evidence, however, that the police can sometimes be part of the problem, not the solution.

In February of 2013, rabble reported on a study by the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch into the abuse of Indigenous women who live along what has become known as British Columbia’s Highway of Tears.

At that time, this writer reported:

Based on this week’s Human Rights Watch report, the police who are supposed to serve and protect northern British Columbia seem to be quite at odds with the communities they are mandated to protect. To all appearances, RCMP officers in northern British Columbia act more like colonial occupiers — or even feudal enforcers and thugs — than servants of the public good.

Overcoming fear many Indigenous women feel

In its report, based on five weeks of research and 87 interviews, Human Rights Watch said it had “heard disturbing allegations of rape and sexual assault by RCMP officers, including from a woman who described how in July 2012 police officers took her outside of town, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.”

Human Rights Watch also reported that many Indigenous women were afraid to come forward. Some who had originally agreed to talk to researchers later withdrew.

When it finally gets underway, a Canadian government created inquiry might face a similar measure of reticence.

One of the many issues the three ministers will want to consider during their pre-inquiry consultations will be how to assure both the candour and the safety of people who have stories to tell.

One has a right to hope that having the full weight of the federal government behind such an inquiry will give some comfort and assurance to Indigenous people who have important information to share. 

In the previous Parliament the NDP had pushed hard for this inquiry.

Now that the Trudeau government has heeded the call, New Democrats will likely be both supportive of the three ministers and vigilant in advocating for the needs and fears of Indigenous women and girls. 


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Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Karl has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years, including eight years as the producer of the CBC...