APTN National News
The MMIWG inquiry created to examine the disproportionate level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls will “investigate the investigations” of police agencies across the country, according to the inquiry’s Chief Commissioner Marion Buller.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is already working with the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police, Thunder Bay police and Quebec’s provincial police to obtain files dealing with specific cases which will be reviewed by a “forensic investigation team,” said Buller during testimony Thursday before the House of Commons Indigenous affairs committee.
“We have always intended to investigate policing and the best way of describing it succinctly is we intend to investigate the investigations,” said Buller.
Buller said the inquiry’s forensic review team is comprised of Crown attorneys, defense lawyers and forensic interview experts. Buller said the team is aiming to probe patterns in the way police agencies investigate cases involving violence against Indigenous women and girls along with their interrogation techniques.
The four inquiry commissioners—Buller, Michele Audette, Qajaq Robinson and Brian Eyolfson –appeared before the committee of federal MPs amid widespread concern internal disorganization and tensions threaten to compromise the work inquiry. The inquiry has faced a number of high profile resignations, including that of commissioner Marilyn Poitras.
The commissioners attempted to present a picture of an inquiry that is restricted by federal government structures while trying to confront a deeply complex and sensitive subject with roots stretching back hundreds of years.
“In fulfilling its mandate the inquiry is subject to the structures of the federal government,” said Buller. “The national inquiry is not alone in finding these rules frustrating.”
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The inquiry depends on the support of a secretariat within the Office of the Privy Council, which is essentially the prime minister’s department and the central nervous system of the federal bureaucracy.
“This was never going to be easy,” said Robinson, as she referred to a painting in the committee hearing room depicting the Fathers of Confederation. “I look up at that painting, the Fathers of Confederation, it was an issue 150 years before then…. We are not examining buildings, we are examining lives; we are examining the systemic reaction to this, the systemic causes of this tragedy.”
The commissioners have concluded they do not believe they will be able to do the job within the two years initially set by the federal Liberal government. The inquiry will likely be seeking an extension that will include a request for additional dollars to their existing budget of $53 million.
Buller said the commission, which is now into its second year, will have spent 75 per cent of its budget by April 1, 2018.
“We don’t have a full calendar year for the next fiscal year,” said Buller.
“Given those figures, you’ll have to ask for more money (for a time extension),” said Conservative MP Cathy McLeod.
The inquiry is still in the process of hiring a full complement of staff who will work from five offices –Vancouver, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Quebec City – across the country along with several home offices in places like Iqaluit and Halifax, said Buller.
Under questioning, Audette admitted the inquiry still does not have all its computers on the same network and that its IT system is a patchwork from three different departments. Audette said because the inquiry system is operating within federal government structures it is also riddled with glitches.
“If you do one mistake, your computer crashes and stops,” said Audette.
The inquiry has made some progress in registering families. Audette said a total of 735 families and survivors have registered with inquiry and internal improvements allowed for the registration of 300 families in three weeks.
The inquiry is also ready to submit an interim report based on an analysis of 100 previous reports and 1,200 recommendations into the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
“It’s the most comprehensive review that has been completed to date,” said Buller.
During the committee hearing, Liberal MPs applied a soft-touch to their questioning of the commissioners. The Liberal government’s fortunes are partly tied to the success of the inquiry which was the product of a high-profile election promise.
At one point Liberal MP Mike Bossio ran interference on aggressive questioning from NDP MP Georgina Jolibois’, who spoke Dene to the commissioners. Bossio complained to committee chair MaryAnn Mihychuk that Jolibois wasn’t letting Buller complete her answers during the rapid-fire questioning.
Jolibois was pressing Buller on what she thought was the inquiry’s downloading of responsibility to local organizations and provinces in providing information for families seeking to engage with the inquiry.
“We know that things aren’t happening on the ground that you speak of, based on my experiences,” said Jolibois.
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