Canada launches inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women

Justin Trudeau promises total renewal of relationship with aboriginal people with investigation of nearly 1,200 murders and disappearances in three decades

Canadas government has launched a long-awaited national inquiry into the murder or disappearance of hundreds of indigenous women, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised a total renewal of the countrys relationship with its aboriginal population.

Speaking to an Assembly of First Nations (AFN) special chiefs gathering in Gatineau, Qubec, the Liberal leader announced that his government had begun the process to create the inquiry into the nearly 1,200 indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or who have gone missing in Canada over the past three decades.

Activists, aboriginal leadership and many victims families have been calling for a national inquiry for more than five years a move which was resisted by Trudeaus conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper.

The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to heal and to be heard, said Trudeau. We must work together to put an end to this ongoing tragedy.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that over the next two months the government will consult victims families and Aboriginal leaders to gather their views on the design, scope and parameters of the full inquiry, expected to begin sometime next spring.

No inquiry can undo what happened nor can it restore what was lost, but it can help us find a way forward, she said.

Claudette Commanda, an Algonquin First Nations member and activist who was invited to Tuesdays announcement, called it a historical event.

It is time to hear their voices, it is time for justice, she said.

The first phase will also include an online component with background information, a survey and discussion guide accessible to all Canadians.

Indigenous women make up just 4% of Canadas female population but 16% of all women murdered in the country. First Nations, Inuit and Metis women are three times more likely to report experiencing violence.

Indigenous affairs minister Carolyn Bennett said the national inquiry will take as long as it takes to get it right and that no official budget has yet been set.

The Liberals had pledged $40m over two years in their campaign platform for the project.

Bennett said the end goal of the inquiry is to be able to find concrete action that will be able to stop this national tragedy.

But Mag Cywink, whose sister Sonya was killed in 1994, said she wanted to see the government take action.

An inquiry can never bring my sister back. I just dont want this to happen to my nieces, to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she said.

Cywink also wants all levels of government to look at past inquiries the 1996, 4,000-page Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the 2012 British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, the recent Truth and Reconciliation report, and work by grassroots organizations and to begin implementing the hundreds or recommendations already put forward but never applied.

A lot of the homework has already been done, a lot of the answers are out there, a lot of the questions have been answered about whats wrong and whats causing these kinds of problems, she said.

Trudeau, whose landslide victory in October was helped in part by a record number of First Nations voters, promised earlier on Tuesday to reset the countrys relationship with Canadas 1.4 million indigenous peoples.

Speaking to an Assembly of First Nations (AFN) special chiefs gathering in Gatineau, Qubec, the Liberal leader said his government would work to develop a new kind of relationship: One that understands that constitutionally guaranteed rights are not an inconvenience but a sacred obligation, one based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

Trudeau has made big promises on the Aboriginal file on everything from water and housing to education, funding and infrastructure pledges that, if implemented, will help address issues like rampant poverty and homelessness that make aboriginal women more vulnerable to deadly violence.

The high expectations from the AFN and its members were on display Tuesday morning.

You have made a great start in changing the narrative, prime minister. You have reached out your hand as a treaty partner in a respectful way, said AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde in his morning address.

We are hopeful, we are optimistic, lets get to work.


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