Announcing the terms of the long-awaited inquiry at a ceremony in the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, the five-member panel to lead the national, independent commission were also named.
Pam Palmater, an Indigenous activist and professor at Ryerson University, in an email to teleSUR said that while it’s good Canada is taking action on its commitment to the inquiry, neither its terms of reference, nor its choice of commissioners was done in collaboration with Indigenous groups.
Like criticism leveled by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Palmater also sees a weakness of the probe in its failure to investigate police or child and family services, both of which are complicit in violence inflicted upon Indigenous women and girls.
Bridget Perrier, whose adoptive daughter’s biological mother was killed by British Columbia pig farmer and mass murderer Robert Pickton between 1999 and 2002, said police accountability is imperative to understanding why Indigenous women disappear and die.
"For me justice would be changing the laws a bit, making it a hate crime if you kill an Indigenous woman ... I want to see harsher sentences for people who murder our women and girls," Perrier told CBC.
The terms of reference of the inquiry makes no specific mention of police investigations, which was an issue that came up at all 17 pre-inquiry consultations that were held throughout the year.
Despite that, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Monday at the ceremony that the national inquiry would review "the uneven application of justice," including police conduct.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous woman to hold the position, who held back tears during the ceremony, told CBC's Power & Politics that she doesn't want the inquiry to release a report that would simply “sit on a shelf."
"We need to get at the root causes of why this situation exists in the first place, whether that be poverty, marginalization, discrimination and address those in a substantive way," she said.
Palmater’s critiques also address how the inquiry, without the specific language of racism, sexism and violence, obscures the reality of sexualized violence against Indigenous women. Farther, in doing little to unpack Canada’s colonial legacy, which is embedded in the country’s institutions, the “focus is on healing and reconciliation, which downplays uncomfortable truths and hard decisions (that are required) to make change.”
The five commissioners that will be responsible for carrying out the probe, include Marion Buller, B.C.'s first female First Nations judge; Michele Audette, former president of the NWAC; Qajaq Robinson, an Ottawa-based, Nunavut-born lawyer; Marilyn Poitras, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan with a focus on Indigenous law; and Brian Eyolfson, a First Nations lawyer based in Ontario.
As Palmater shared, there are concerns surrounding the fact that not all the commissioners are Indigenous, and that men are part of the panel, “given that this inquiry is about male violence against women.” The families of the victims in particular wanted all Indigenous women to lead the report.
Still, Palmater is encouraged by the inquiry’s commitment to “culturally appropriate processes” and its “focus on trauma supports for families.”
To her, justice for the thousands of Indigenous women murdered or missing would mean that the cases are handled properly, compensation is given to victims where there was state-sanctioned violence or discrimination, and that there is a change in laws and structures to prevent any more deaths or disappearances.
With the process expected to last at least two years and cost at least US$53.8 million, it’s high time that justice be realized for the many women and their families.
"This shouldn't be another Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That was dragged on for years. I think what families really want is justice. And we haven't been given justice. We've been given a lot of resolutions and recommendations," said Perrier.