(“I feel a sense of relief. Like a weight has lifted off me” The Catcheway family testifies at the National Inquiry. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN)
A plea to get to the root of so many disappearances drew applause on the last day in Winnipeg of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls as the RCMP were targetted for its lack of interest in solving the case of Jennifer Catheway.
“I want change,” said an emotional Bernice Catcheway, who hasn’t seen her daughter Jennifer since 2008. “Our women, our girls, boys, and men continue to go missing.”
“It’s an actual epidemic, another form of genocide,” added her daughter, Tamara Sanderson. ”I am thankful for this opportunity to create change.”
Jennifer Catcheway’s case is now presumed to be a homicide, said her mother, who shocked the hearing by saying she only learned about that by seeing it on the television news.
A lack of communication and a bad attitude from the RCMP was one of a number of problems Bernice Catcheway listed with the police investigation during her testimony before commissioner Michele Audette.
“The RCMP failed her,” Bernice said of her daughter. “We’ve been let down by the authorities so many times.”
The Catcheways, from Portage la Prairie, Man., initially did not support the inquiry, arguing the $54-million budget could be better spent helping grieving families.
Their concerns seemed well-placed earlier this week when they told reporters they were frustrated with being restricted to a 20-minute presentation before an inquiry that seemed generally disorganized.
But Friday Bernice said she spoke up for her daughter during a two-hour testimony and said she’s glad she did.
She encouraged other families to do the same.
“I feel a sense of relief. Like a weight has lifted off me.”
The relentless searching for their daughter, who failed to come home for a planned family supper on her 18th birthday, seemed to move Audette.
At one point, Audette stopped taking notes to listen and look at the 19 family members who crowded into the small seating area in a downtown hotel banquet room.
“Not only the RCMP failed you,” she said, “it’s the country, it’s Canada.”
(MMIWG Commissioner Michele Audette meets with reporters in Winnipeg. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN)
Jennifer Catcheway’s older brother Willie Starr showed newspaper clippings about the search for a non-Indigenous woman, who disappeared from the same community and around the same time as his sister.
A large, front page, colour photo showed a crowd of people searching for blonde-haired Amber McFarland.
“I don’t know if it’s because she’s Caucasian or what, but look at the inequalities. When we have no money, no help with searches,” he told Audette. “What’s the difference between my sister and their loved one?
“We’re all the same; we’re human beings. That was hard to witness.”
Starr echoed his mother’s comments, saying the RCMP seemed disinterested, at best, in helping them.
He said if nothing else the inquiry must deliver accountability from police agencies.
The family detailed exhaustive efforts to find Jennifer.
Bernice Catcheway explained she saved vacation time to join her husband, Wilfred, in the summer months to scour garbage dumps, roadside ditches and bodies of water.
She admitted their quest has hurt their other children, at times, and stolen valuable family time.
What they’ve lived with they wouldn’t wish on any other family, she added.
Audette promised to question the powers-that-be.
“We do not become the police but we have the capability to examine what they didn’t do,” she said.
Watch Tamara Pimentel’s report here:
The RCMP did not attend the hearings.
Winnipeg is the third community to host a visit from the two-year inquiry so far.
This week, it was announced three additional days of statement-gathering would take place in the northern Manitoba community of Norway House next month, and the commissioners may visit the northern Manitoba city of Thompson in the coming months.
The commissioners owe the federal government an interim report on their work to date by November 1.
They said they need an extension to hear from all the families that have a missing or murdered woman or girl in their life – for a full public record of Canadian history.
Audette repeated the inquiry has the government’s ear.
When asked later what struck her the most about what she’d heard this week, Audette questioned the police investigations.
“How come families – families – have to do the investigation, have to make those calls, have to dig in dumps? For me, if we hear this everywhere across Canada maybe there’s something wrong.”
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