APTN National News
As the Membertou hearings of the national inquiry wrapped up, Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations responded to an interim report from commissioners saying a national police task force to look at cold cases is a “very interesting proposal.”
Carolyn Bennett responded Wednesday to the interim report a little more than half-way through its two-year mandate.
It made 10 recommendations.
Chief among them was the need for more time and money.
But Chief Commissioner Marion Buller didn’t specify an amount or time period – nor has she submitted a formal request to the federal government.
Bennett said she’s open to sit down and talk.
“We are always happy to have a conversation and then, of course, that would require a conversation with the families, with everyone, but we are, you know, we will have that conversation when it’s the time.”
For Virginia Pictou’s family, the news is a welcome relief.
“For 23 years, we’ve been wanting to speak our truth, and today’s our day,” said brother Robert.
“Hallelujah, today’s our day.”
Robert John Pictou’s truth is a tragic one.
He joined his family at the Membertou inquiry hearings to tell the inquiry about his sister.
Virginia Pictou has been missing nearly a quarter century.
To the family, the term missing is strictly an official term.
“We know in our heart, we know that she’s gone,” said brother Francis Pictou. “To us she’s missing, to the man who killed her she’s not missing, he put her someplace.”
The family says they know who did it.
Pictou was a victim of domestic abuse.
According to a police report, she was beaten by her husband Larry Noyes, and his brother the night she went missing.
“This report I read said that she was walking towards the door, as she was walking towards the door, Larry ran up behind her and jumped kicked her out the door,” said Robert Pictou.
Pictou’s case is complicated by the fact that she went missing in rural Maine.
The family says one investigator is in charge of 50 cases and that they’ve had trouble getting cooperation.
“If you say ‘Robert, give me something official that Virgina is missing or whatever,’ I cannot, I apologize, commissioner,” an emotional Robert Pictou testified.
“I can’t give you that, because we don’t have it, they won’t give it to us. We have absolutely nothing to prove our sister is gone.”
But if the government follows through on the inquiry’s interim report – there may be recourse in the future.
“What this task force will do is it will allow for those cases to be looked at, investigated, reinvestigated properly,” said commissioner Qajaq Robinson. “And that is something that we are not tasked for or capable of doing under our terms of reference.”
Robert Pictou welcomed the idea.
He said at this point, any help would be an improvement.
“We got no help, nothing for victims services,” he said. “There was nothing as far as the state police or even the police department talking to us, saying here we have these resources and counselling (laughs), no, there was none.”
Buller, flanked by the rest of the commission – Brian Eyolfson, Michele Audette, and Qajaq Robinson – at a news conference in Ottawa, repeated her frustrations with government administration.
She has said everything has moved slower than anticipated.
Bennett says the government is hearing their call for flexibility and will strike a working group across all departments to respond.
It sounds like Bennett wants things to run more smoothly and quickly. But she wants an end date, too.
While open to the idea of an extension, she said families shouldn’t be left hanging.
“Certainly in the pre-Inquiry (meetings with families), we heard time and time again they don’t want this to take forever,” she said.
Bennett praised the interim report for summarizing the number of studies (98) and recommendations (1,200) Canada has funded on issues related to Indigenous women thus far.
She described it as an “important” and “excellent piece of work.”
Tom Fennario is in Membertou and Kathleen Martens is in Winnipeg
Contact Kathleen here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Tom here: email@example.com