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A coalition of families and survivors of missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Manitoba is calling on the remaining commissioners at the national inquiry to “be brave” and resign.
“We the families of MMIWG and survivors in Manitoba have lost confidence in the national inquiry,” said Hilda Anderson Pyrz, co-chair of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Coalition of Manitoba. “The families and survivors agree that a hard reset required. This hard reset requires the resignation of the lead commissioner and of the remaining three commissioners and the explicit inclusion of policing in the terms of reference.”
Family members and advocates gathered on Wednesday on the heels of the latest resignation from the embattled National Inquiry, this time from Commissioner Marilyn Poitras.
The Manitoba coalition says they’ve “lost confidence” in what they call a “flawed process.” They cite a lack of communication, consultation and transparency. They’re also calling on the government to include policing in the terms of reference which has been a point of contention for many advocates and family members.
The coalition will be writing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let him know how they’d like to see the process move forward in Manitoba.
That would include a regional, Indigenous process building on the “Families First” approach already being utilized. The Coalition would like to see a Commissioner for Manitoba that would work regionally and work parallel with the National Inquiry.
“We are also calling for the implementation of an Indigenous design and Indigenous-led process for Manitoba that can contribute to a renewed national inquiry process,” said Pyrz.
No names were put forward but some in the coalition believe a family member who is dealing with the pain and grief of losing a loved one should be named as a commissioner.
On Monday, Marilyn Poitras sent a letter of resignation to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stating that she couldn’t fulfill her role as commissioner under the current structure of the inquiry. She sent a more detailed letter out Tuesday saying that few at the inquiry shared her vision of how the process should work.
Poirtras’ resignation is the fifth resignation in the past couple of months. In June, the commission lost senior communications officer Sue Montgomery, Tanya Kappo, manager of communications, Chantale Courcy, director of operations and Michèle Moreau, the inquiry’s executive director.
According to head Commissioner Marion Buller, people left for personal reasons – and “better opportunities.”
Poitras’ resignation forced Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to call a meeting with the commissioners to find out where the inquiry is at in terms of fulfilling its mandate.
Indigenous Affairs Minister meeting with reporters Tuesday on Parliament Hill.
Bennett called a news conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday to tell media that she was surprised with how much work the inquiry had done and was impressed with the work plan in place.
“There is no question, that we all agree, communication has been an issue. And that they have got to do a better job at communicating their vision, their plan, values and the way that they’re going to get this work done,” said Bennett.
The Manitoba families said they are not calling for the national inquiry to be scrapped – but restructured, including the need for regional representation.
“Manitoba would name its own Indigenous commissioner,” said Sandra Delaronde – Co chair MMIWG Family and survivors coalition. “That would do the work regionally and then that work would feed into the national inquiry. The people in Manitoba, the coalition, in concert with the families, feel it’s important to be in control of the inquiry. We waited 20 years for the inquiry to come into play and the inquiry in its current form is not hearing the voices, is not inviting the consultation of the people in the region, or if it invites it, it’s not listening.”
Betty Rourke, whose daughter was murdered in 2013, and a sister murdered in 1980, said it was hard to watch the National Inquiry livestream from Whitehorse at the end of May.
She said she refuses to be “on trial” and said her family is hurting and feels nothing will come from the Inquiry in its current form.
“It’s just a big farce. It’s all about money. All those commissioners are getting paid big bucks because of me hurting and all of my missing and murdered Family. We’re all hurting but we get nothing. No Answers, no phone calls, nothing,” said Rourke.
The coalition said the process to choose a Manitoba commissioner would follow the same path as for the inquiry – the main quality being a person who can work with the families.
“The families don’t feel heard. They aren’t engaging in this process. They don’t feel like they are able to engage in this process,” said Angie Hutchinson, a member of the coalition. “And they don’t feel like their loved ones are being valued in this process and we want to look at changing that.”
Lead Commissioner Marion Buller.
On Tuesday, Ontario Native Women’s Association sent a letter to Commissioner Marion Buller rescinding the association’s support of the inquiry.
“This Inquiry needs to honour Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” said Executive Director, Cora McGuire-Cyrette in a statement posted Tuesday. “We cannot continue to harm the most vulnerable population in our communities. When do Indigenous Women get to matter? We want the Inquiry to assist families in their healing and to help Canada, Indigenous nations and communities to provide the guideposts to the changes we need so that we do not lose any more Indigenous women and girls to violence. We do not believe that the Inquiry in its current configuration can achieve these outcomes.”
A spokesperson for Carolyn Bennett said the Indigenous Affairs Minister stands by the statements she made Tuesday.