Jennifer McPherson had a “beautiful and loving” spirit, says her family.
First it was office equipment now it’s aftercare – the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is again blaming government bureaucracy for delaying its work.
In a letter to survivors and families obtained by APTN News, Terrellyn Fearn, the inquiry’s director of community engagement and support services, says red tape is tying up healing dollars to survivors and families – and points the finger at the Privy Council Office (PCO).
“We know some family members and survivors have been waiting too long for aftercare plan approval and reimbursement for services,” she writes.
“While we operate at arm’s length from the federal government, we are required to follow the same guidelines as every other Canadian government department to access our funding.”
The inquiry’s chief commissioner Marion Buller said the same thing in September 2017, citing government policies and procedures for problems with hiring, contracting and technology.
But one family says the inquiry is also at fault.
Kim McPherson, whose family testified in Winnipeg last year about the murder of her sister Jennifer McPherson, said the inquiry is making families jump through too many hoops to access after-care funding and services.
“This process was ridiculous on the part of the Inquiry to ask of us family members to seek the funding from a third party and put pressure on support systems that are already underfunded by different levels of governments,” McPherson said in an email.
“(It’s) only part of the needless stress and frustration that this bureaucracy has created for MMIWG families who have had to endure incredible challenges and barriers to apply for access to much needed aftercare.”
APTN contacted the PCO for comment but did not hear back before this story was published.
However, in June 2017, after the inquiry first identified problems with government demands, an official with the PCO denied the office was holding anything up.
“We’ve had enough resources within the PCO budget to be able to pay for expenditures related to the commission up to this point so they have not been without resources available for what they would need in terms of doing it,” said Kami Ramcharan
“Have they had full access? Absolutely.”
McPherson noted the problems have caused her family to postpone a memorial service for Jennifer on the remote island she lived on off the coast of B.C.
Something that further damages their efforts to move on, she said.
“This is how the federal government prioritizes MMIWG families which is hurtful and traumatizing given they can expedite billion dollar subsidies to large corporations such as the oil industry (Kinder Morgan),” she said.
“It truly is a shame but as a MMIWG family, we have no choice but to wait. It certainly tests our tenacity and patience.”
Alaya McIvor says she, too, is still waiting for counselling money after testifying at the inquiry in Winnipeg in October 2017.
She shared documents with APTN that show she was promised $25,000 for emotional support that was later reduced to $3,500.
And, she said, she has only been reimbursed for half of what she already paid to an Elder.
Kim McPherson says she was told aftercare is only for family members who testified – not family supporters or those who didn’t “have the strength to testify but have been impacted nonetheless.
“This whole process has been counter to the reconciliation rhetoric the federal government indicates in the media, the public and internationally. It does not reflect the cultural, traditional or trauma needs of the families which are highlighted in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action to adapt policies to these needs,” she said in an email.
Fearn said she regrets families are caught in the middle.
She told APTN at the inquiry’s hearing in Thompson, Man., there were grappling with aftercare issues with the government.
She hinted there was more to it but declined to go further with the inquiry waiting to hear whether it will be extended another two years and $50 million.
Still, the McPhersons say the inquiry expects too much from hurting families.
Kim says there is no administrative support for family members inside and outside Winnipeg, for example, who are expected to print, copy, fill out and deliver forms to third-party organizations already struggling to help their own clients.
“The (inquiry) seems to be offloading their job to other organizations,” she said.
Her mother, Betty Rourke, in an email to APTN, confirmed there were “troubles” with inquiry staffers, including Fearn.