By Frank Larue
On August 3, the Federal government announced the Chief Commissioner of a five-member task force who will be responsible for the inquiry on missing and murdered women. B.C. First Nations judge Marion Bulller has been nominated. Buller was the first female aboriginal judge in British Columbia and was appointed in 1994. She founded B.C.’s First Nations Court and was commission counsel for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Justice Inquiry that examined the treatment Aboriginal people were receiving from the legal system. The Law Foundation of B.C. chair Warren Milman described Marion Buller as “An extraordinary human being. We were very glad to have her and disappointed that we’re going to lose her, but it’s for a good cause.”
The commissioners who will be joining Buller are Michele Audette former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Qajaq Robinson, Nunavut lawyer specialising in Aboriginal issues and land and treaty claims, Marlyn Poitras from the University of Saskatchewan, and Brian Eyolfson former vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. They have their work cut for them. The inquiry that was stalled by the Harper government for years and now is scheduled to begin in September comes with high expectations. Buller knows the problems that lay ahead but she has stated that, “The spirit of the missing and Indigenous women and girls will be close in our hearts and in our minds as we do our work.” Buller told the media, “The families and the survivors losses, pain, strength and courage will inspire our works.”
A budget of $53.8 million has been set aside to finance the inquiry and it will run from September 1st to Dec 31, 2018. Their mission is to find the root causes behind the violence against Indigenous women and girls and what role the legal system plays, including the police, when it comes to Indigenous women. “We need to identify the causes of these disparities and take action now to end them,” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told the CBC, “The government of Canada is committed to doing better and we will take action together to reach the goal of eliminating, as much as we can, violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
Gladys Tollley’s mother was killed by a Quebec Provincial police cruiser while she was crossing a highway. She told the CBC, “I hope we get justice. Pray, pray and pray for us. We want justice, it hurts too much. I don’t want to do this any more, it hurts. I’m just hoping and praying that this helps some families if not mine, that’s all.”
Will she get justice? If history has demonstrated anything the answer will be no. The Saskatchewan police who left native men in desolated areas in Saskatoon so they could freeze were never punished thanks to the internal investigation, which, like all police investigations, never holds any of their officers accountable for acts of racism against native people.
Everyone may be thankful for the inquiry but there are many skeptics, “Families made it very clear that they wanted answers,” Native Women’s Association of Canada president Dawn Lavell-Harvard told the media, “that many cases they felt were closed prematurely, that they don’t accept the conclusion. They want those reopened.” The commissioners may suggest cold cases be re-opened but a request will likely be turned down by police who will demand a budget for re-opening cases. This would mean the government would have to come up with the cash, which will take time and therefore the cases may remain cold.
The cost of the inquiry which is now at 53.8 million, seems high. “If we are spending $50+ million, that could have been going towards shelters and programs and services,” Cathy Macleod, conservative party critic for Indigenous Affairs told the CBC, “So it’s got to provide a real tangible path forward.” Charlie Angus NDP critic for Indigenous Affairs is afraid the inquiry might raise false expectations, “I hope the pressure will be on to put the resources in now to keep other young women from being trafficked or victimized or murdered.”
The main concern is will the inquiry change anything or will their findings simply confirm the Truth and Reconciliation findings. The RCMP receiver $7 million dollar budget for several years to solve the Highway of Tears murders and came up with nothing. Twenty-seven women have disappeared yet the task forces were not able to solve anything of value. The native bands who live near the Highway of Tears demands for a shuttle bus service so native women would no longer have hitchhike, were never taken seriously and the millions spent on the RCMP served no purpose. We don’t need to know that racism is part of the problem, the legal system failures need to be examined and why native women in the sex trade work on street corners. This will solve nothing, we need action and the inquiry is supposed to be the stepping-stone to action from the government.
In a recent meeting of police chiefs in Winnipeg, the question of missing women came up and the RCMP admitted that they had racists in uniform. If native women are five times more likely to deal with violence than white women, police should be more sensitive to the problem. “We cannot ignore the fact that many family members and survivors of violence do not feel like they were treated respectfully or fairly by the justice system,” NWAC president Dawn Lavell-Harvard told the CBC.