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Ujjal Dosanjh

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Canada Must Retool the National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls!

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The national inquiry into the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) had been demanded for some time; there had been calls for such an inquiry for many years.

I had become aware of the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in the mid nineties, when I served as the Attorney General of British Columbia, as many were campaigning for action from the BC government regarding more than twenty missing Indigenous women from, in and around Vancouver. Indigenous communities and activists were legitimately angry about the inexplicable disappearance of so many indigenous women and girls in British Columbia and the authorities had only responded with an absolutely unpardonable unconcern--quite in keeping with Canada's abysmal history of treatment of the Indigenous peoples.

Eventually the BC Government persuaded the City of Vancouver and partnered with it to post the first ever award for information on the many Indigenous missing and murdered women. The Indigenous communities and activists had been campaigning for such an award.

To give the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in British Columbia the attention and publicity it deserved, we brought in John Walsh of America's Most Wanted to publicly highlight the issue and the award and held a joint press conference with him. Subsequently Robert Pickton was apprehended, tried and convicted of murdering several missing Indigenous women, whose DNA along with some other evidence was found on the Pickton Farm in the suburbs of Vancouver.  

The long and blatant neglect of the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada is one of the most shameful chapters in the history of policing in Canada. Some years ago there was a BC inquiry into the issue. As it got underway, it faced criticism from some activists and families of the missing and murdered women. The Inquiry proceeded and produced dozens of recommendations. Unfortunately many of them are still gathering dust on the shelves of government offices--a fate they unfortunately share with scores of recommendations of many other inquiries and commissions concerning the lives of Indigenous Canadians.

I had blogged in support of MMIWG when Harper government had rejected the demands and the need for one; I applauded the Trudeau government when the current inquiry was called.

But sadly the Trudeau government took an unduly long time to announce the MMIWG terms of reference and its commissioners. As the commissioners organised the inquiry they came under intense criticism from some of the indigenous leadership and families of the missing women and the girls for not consulting with them and other Indigenous communities sufficiently or at all in deciding how to conduct and proceed with the inquiry. To make matters worse the commissioners spent over ten million dollars,   and a long time, before they conducted the MMIWG's first public hearing.

Stories of dissension in the ranks of the MMIWG commission and its newly minted bureaucracy began to surface. Like most people, I thought all this might be part of the growing pains of the inquiry, that is, until commissioner Marilyn Poitras resigned, accusing the commission of following the well trodden and abysmally failed path of the commissions and inquiries gone by saying "my main concern is that this commission is going down a tried road. We've been studied, we've been researched, we've gone and looked at Indians and half-breeds and Inuit people for a long time to see what's the problem? ...You tell us your sad story and we'll figure out what to do with you. And we're headed down that same path. And if it worked, we would be all so fixed and healthy by now. It doesn't work."

Marilyn Poitras' resignation from the commission should sound loud alarm bells for Justin Trudeau. The prime minister should pay heed to Poitras' view. Most previous efforts to decolonise Canada's policies with respect to the Indigenous peoples haven't had much success; the only exception being Pierre Trudeau's enshrining of the Aboriginal Rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The path adopted by MMIWG, well trodden, of having the indigenous people testify before it, as has happened many times before, listening to their stories of how Canada has let them down and producing a report based on their continuing pain and suffering at the hands of Canada, will not take Canada to a different, new or better future for the Indigenous peoples. It hasn't before. It won't now; certainly not as a result of the current commission, particularly in the way it has approached the whole issue. To ensure that the Indigenous peoples flourish as autonomous peoples in a fairer and more just and inclusive Canada, the government requires a different, newer and better approach than the one it is countenancing in the present commission and its adopted methodology for fulfilling its terms of reference.

Commissioner Marilyn Poitras' resignation has already sounded the death knell of the old ways of figuring out how a better world for the Indigenous people can be achieved. Poitras definitely has a point; and a very important one at that. The Indigenous people have to be the main players in figuring out the mechanisms and the path for their liberation from the modern colonial Canadian experience and the systematic violence they suffer as part of it. As Poitras states, the current MMIWG underway on the old and utterly failed track will create neither the mechanisms nor the paths for real solutions of the serious problems and the issues that the commission is examining.

It is never too late, not even for the federal government, to admit its error, retool and revamp the inquiry to ensure it is a win-win for Canada and the indigenous peoples so as to ensure that it is truly a decolonising and empowering experience for the indigenous peoples.







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