Tasked with seeking a solution to continuing violence against Indigenous women in Canada, a national inquiry is instead being blamed for sowing division.
“We have been left out of the equation at every turn,” Melanie Omeniho, the president of Women of the Métis Nation, said Friday.
“We have been met with months of dead silence.”
It’s the same for lawyer Suzan Fraser, who represents 20 families. She says she’s been forced to file notice to take the inquiry to federal court to find out why her clients can’t get legal standing.
“I have said that it’s unprecedented,” Fraser said from Toronto. “I’ve never seen an inquiry fail to respond to an application for standing.”
These are two of a growing number of allies turning against the inquiry when they’re needed the most – after commissioners asked Ottawa this week to extend their mandate by two years and another $50 million.
“We flat out do not support an extension,” Omeniho said from Fort McMurray, AB.
Her group is so fed up it has given up. Omeniho says they plan to produce their own parallel report on missing and murdered women from the Métis community.
“We have been one of the groups that have at every corner been standing, supporting the commissioners and trying to move forward in a positive way, trying to make sure that they are inclusive and that there’s a voice for Métis within the confines of their mandate.”
Instead they feel like outsiders, she said.
“We have met with them face to face on many occasions, we’ve reached out, we’ve said, ‘We’re here to help. Whatever we can do.’
“…but they’ve been very First Nation-focused.”
The national Inuit women’s organization feels the same way.
“Our recommendations don’t seem to be taken too seriously,” said Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit.
“We had all these recommendations…we want to see coming from Inuit.”
Pauktuutit opposes an extension, believing 2020 is too long to wait for answers to quell the violence.
“That’s what my board says,” Kudloo said. “We feel we can’t wait that much longer.”
The millions spent on an extension could be used to open more women’s shelters and fund counselling programs.
Pauktuutit, also, never warmed to commissioner Qajaq Robinson, who was born in Nunavut and is fluent in Inuktitut but is not Inuk.
The Métis women say they lost their advocate when commissioner Marilyn Poitras resigned last year after 10 months on the job.
“Instead of reaching out to us and making sure we were engaged and a part of this, they’ve actually excluded us,” said Omeniho.
She says attempts to find out how they’ve engaged Métis Elders, what kind of Métis supports they offer, and how many Métis witnesses have testified, have left them shaking their heads.
Yet Chief Commissioner Marion Buller cited the time and money needed for an extension was, in part, to form a Métis Advisory Committee.
“It’s an insult to us,” Omeniho said.
“There is nothing in their mandate that excluded us. The only thing that excluded us was them.”
Fraser says her clients are equally upset.
Several groups have been denied standing and they’re listed on the inquiry’s website, but she says her group hasn’t heard anything after months of waiting.
“I’m hoping that with the filing of this application that we’ll be able to get a better understanding of what’s happened. The inquiry will be obliged to respond.”
It’s not the first criticism levelled at the remaining four commissioners that were appointed by the Trudeau government in 2016.
Aboriginal leaders from Manitoba have been the most vocal, calling for the two-year probe to be restructured and Buller to resign in the wake of numerous internal resignations and firings.
Now, they say they oppose an extension unless they see proof all four commissioners are co-leading the inquiry and Buller is no longer in charge.
— MKO Communications (@MKO_North) March 7, 2018
Commissioners Michele Audette and Robinson told reporters this week they all work together to make the inquiry run.
No one was available for further comment Friday.