Canada’s indigenous and northern affairs minister says the upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women will be independent.
“It will be arm’s-length from government, like any decent national public inquiry,” Carolyn Bennett said Monday.
“It means that people don’t think that we’re quietly telling them what they can or can’t do.”
Bennett was in town this week as part of the federal government’s cross-country meetings to hear from families of the missing and murdered women.
About 50 people spent Monday at Whitehorse’s Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in a closed meeting to talk about what the inquiry should look like.
“We believe that we will have succeeded in this phase one if, when the commission is announced, the people who are here today felt that they had been listened to,” Bennett said.
“That they can see their fingerprints on the blueprint of the commission. That’s what we need.”
She said she’s concerned when she sees people suggesting online that federal government officials have already decided what the inquiry’s conclusion will be and picked who they want to run it.
“I’m telling you, I wouldn’t be going coast to coast to coast with the other ministers if we already made up our mind,” she said.
Bennett has already held meetings in Ottawa, Yellowknife and Thunder Bay, Ont.
She said it’s important the government, and eventually the inquiry, hear about regional differences that affect aboriginal women and girls.
“You cannot have a one-size-fits-all commission that isn’t prepared to listen to the root causes and the possible solutions in a region and put in place and implement those solutions.”
Some common themes have emerged out of the meetings, she said. Among them, the desire to have indigenous women involved in leading the inquiry and the need to focus on prevention going forward.
“Everybody wants to seek justice for the victims, support for the families, but this issue of prevention keeps coming back to the forefront.”
Bennett said Yukon families spoke to her about concerns over human traffickers preying on vulnerable people.
“We also heard today, more than I think we’ve heard in other places, about the effects on the sixties scoop and how that actually has, in a generational way, laid people more open to predators,” she said.
As many as 20,000 First Nation and Metis children were taken away from their families from the 1960s to the 1980s and adopted into non-native families away from their roots and culture.
After her meeting in Whitehorse, Bennett is scheduled to visit Vancouver, Prince George, Halifax, Quebec City and Montreal.
Summaries of what is heard at each meeting will eventually be posted on the federal government’s website.
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