Friday, February 17, 2017

Murdered Missing Indigenous Women's Inquiry - Enormous Task - Enormous Hopes

"Our women and girls are sacred." 

The first line from the web site of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The operating principles:

The Inquiry has been been launched and the Commissioners  have been selected and the terms of reference have been set. 

"Whereas the Government of Canada has committed to launching an inquiry to identify and examine the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada and to make recommendations for effective action;"

The task for the Commissioners is enormous. I wonder where they will begin first? I wonder how if it will fulfill expectations from families of MMIW and others? 

I have mixed feelings with the Inquiry. I believe people are not going to get to where they want to be at the end of it. People will want to get answers to who did what and what happened to the Women and Girls. Wish it were so but I am not sure. You see it will need to be like an investigator; to look into the files of the cases. Will there be access to look into "open files"?

I also wonder about the power, the authority the Commissioners of the Inquiry will have. Will they be able to get access to the police investigations? Will they be able to get to get Bureaucrats interviewed? 

Will the Commission have the authority to do that; to look at the files of on going investigations? The Inquiry Act gives them the authority yes, but the specific MMIW Inquiry only refers to Part one of the Act. The Terms of Reference for the Inquiry identifying the Authority of the Commissioners does not reflect Part Two of the Inquiry Act. The Authority of the Commissions has no "compelling powers." 

Still on the Canada page outlining the announcement of the MMIW Inquiry does say they have power. :  The Inquiries Act gives the commissioners powers to conduct the inquiry independently. The commissioners will have the power to:

  • call any witnesses
  • require witnesses to give evidence
  • require the production of any document or item that they need relevant to their investigation

The Terms of reference of the MMIW Inquiry do not match the statement of the Government. Where the powers of the announcement does state the Commissioners will have power to compel individuals to provide evidence, those powers seem to absent in the Commissioners authority list.  

It may be nothing. Maybe the Inquiry Commissioners will be able to get the Police to testify or sit for questions. Maybe the Inquiry will be able to get Government officials both bureaucrats and elected members to testify. As we have seen in British Columbia it is important. There was a purge of emails regarding the Highway of Tears issue by high level officials. Since most of the MMIW are still open cases there will be no way to access information as to what is going on. So you can understand the barriers to access and on going investigation.

So that brings in the question, What will the MMIW Inquiry solve? What will it accomplish? It might be a huge exercise in letting parents, family, children speaking about how they feel? Of course that is needed, for those affected to be able to voice. Will it bring answers?

I am not sure if it will. 

The lines below show the difference between usually powers of an inquiry and you can see the MMIW Commissioners powers are muted compared to regular Inquiry powers. 

Inquires Act

Powers of commissioners concerning evidence
 The commissioners have the power of summoning before them any witnesses, and of requiring them to
  • (a) give evidence, orally or in writing, and on oath or, if they are persons entitled to affirm in civil matters on solemn affirmation; and
  • (b) produce such documents and things as the commissioners deem requisite to the full investigation of the matters into which they are appointed to examine.
  • R.S., c. I-13, s. 4.
Marginal note:Idem, enforcement
 The commissioners have the same power to enforce the attendance of witnesses and to compel them to give evidence as is vested in any court of record in civil cases.
Powers of commissioners
 For the purposes of an investigation under section 6, the commissioners
  • (a) may enter into and remain within any public office or institution, and shall have access to every part thereof;
  • (b) may examine all papers, documents, vouchers, records and books of every kind belonging to the public office or institution;
  • (c) may summon before them any person and require the person to give evidence, orally or in writing, and on oath or, if the person is entitled to affirm in civil matters on solemn affirmation; and
  • (d) may administer the oath or affirmation under paragraph (c)..
  • R.S., c. I-13, s. 7.
Marginal note:Subpoena or summons
  •  (1) The commissioners may, under their hands, issue a subpoena or other request or summons, requiring and commanding any person therein named
    • (a) to appear at the time and place mentioned therein;
    • (b) to testify to all matters within his knowledge relative to the subject-matter of an investigation; and
    • (c) to bring and produce any document, book or paper that the person has in his possession or under his control relative to the subject-matter of the investigation.
    • _______________________________________________________________________

As you can see the Inquiry Act gives some broad powers and can compel interested parties to testify. Now compare to the powers under the MMIW terms of reference

  1. direct the Commissioners to inquire into and to report on the following:
    1. systemic causes of all forms of violence — including sexual violence — against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, including underlying social, economic, cultural, institutional and historical causes contributing to the ongoing violence and particular vulnerabilities of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and
    2. institutional policies and practices implemented in response to violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada, including the identification and examination of practices that have been effective in reducing violence and increasing safety
  2. direct the Commissioners to make recommendations on the following:
    1. concrete and effective action that can be taken to remove systemic causes of violence and to increase the safety of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and
    2. ways to honour and commemorate the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada;
  3. direct the Commissioners to conduct the inquiry under the name of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls ("the Inquiry");
  4. authorize the Commissioners to adopt any procedures that they consider expedient for the proper conduct of the Inquiry, to sit at the times and in the places, especially in Indigenous communities in Canada, that the Commissioners consider appropriate and to conduct the Inquiry, to the greatest extent possible, by means of informal processes such as the gathering of statements by qualified trauma-informed persons to record the experiences of families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and survivors of violence against Indigenous women and girls participating in the Inquiry;
  5. direct the Commissioners to take into account, in conducting the Inquiry, that the Inquiry process is intended, to the extent possible,
    1. to be trauma-informed and respect the persons, families and communities concerned,
    2. to provide an opportunity for persons, families and community members to express and share their experiences and views, particularly on ways to increase safety and prevent and eliminate violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada,
    3. to be culturally appropriate and to acknowledge, respect and honour the diverse cultural, linguistic and spiritual traditions of Indigenous peoples, and
    4. to promote and advance reconciliation and to contribute to public awareness about the causes of and solutions for ending violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls in Canada;
  6. authorize the Commissioners to provide any person having a substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the Inquiry with an opportunity to participate in the Inquiry;

The MMIW Inquiry is quite long on soft power and absent is real power of an Inquiry. 

So I wonder what will the end result? 

There are high hopes for concrete answers to what happened to these Women. 

I feel bad for the Commissioners they have a big task with no real tools to complete the task. 

You have to ask why are the Commission not voicing concern over their lack of power? The Inquiry Act gives them the power but the government is taking those powers away? So what is the MMIW Inquiry supposed to accomplish?

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