Yukon leaders welcome missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry

The president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council says she’s grateful the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is finally materializing.

The president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council says she’s grateful the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is finally materializing.

“It’s something that the families have looked forward to for a long time,” said Doris Anderson.

“Let this inquiry be the beginning to help us end the violence against Indigenous women and girls that they face in their lives.”

The federal government announced Wednesday it would spend $54 million on a commission to complete its work by the end of 2018.

The five commissioners have a mandate to “examine and report on the systemic causes behind the violence that Indigenous women and girls experience and their greater vulnerability to that violence by looking for patterns and underlying factors that explain why higher levels of violence occur.”

“Like so many Canadians, we are pleased that Canada will hold a national inquiry into what has happened to our stolen women and girls,” Kwanlin Dun Chief Doris Bill said in a statement.

“Yukon is prepared and we will be fully engaged in the long-awaited federal inquiry. We must prevent these tragedies from continuing and provide the families with some measure of peace.”

What the inquiry will actually look like from a Yukon perspective is not clear yet. Now that the basics have been released, the federal government will stay at arm’s length and the details will be decided by the five commissioners running the inquiry.

A 2014 RCMP report found there were 1,184 reported cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada between 1980 and 2012. There are 39 cases listed in the Yukon.

On top of the cash for the inquiry, the federal government has promised an additional $11.7 million over three years so provinces and territories can establish family information liaison units within their existing victim services departments.

The new units will help families navigate various agencies and departments including the criminal justice system, social services and policing, according to the government website.

Another $4.5 million is going to direct help for the families of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The commission has the option to set up regional advisory committees, composed of families, loved ones and survivors to advise on issues specific to various regions.

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said women across Canada have unique voices to add to the conversation.

“The experience of women in the Yukon is distinctly different from the experience of women in Vancouver, is distinctly different from the experience of women in Manitoba or in northern Ontario,” she said.

“It’s very hard for people who are not Indigenous to understand that we’re not all the same coast to coast.”

Anderson said she hopes the commission will take a look at the justice system.

“I think one of the most basic things we hear over and over is when it comes to policing and the investigation … it seems to be quite laid back when it comes to dealing with Indigenous people.”

The terms of reference for the inquiry give the commissioners power to compel witnesses and summon evidence. They do not mention police explicitly. A public inquiry does not have the power to find criminal wrongdoing.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the commissioners will have the power to refer information they receive regarding criminal investigations or allegations of misconduct to the appropriate authorities.

Lavell-Harvard said, at this stage, her organization has faith that anything the commission uncovers “won’t be just tossed aside, that it will be sent for further follow-up somehow.”

The commission will have the power to gather evidence from departments that would normally be under the control of the territorial government, like health and child welfare.

In a statement, the Yukon government says it is “dedicated to full participation” in the inquiry.

A spokesperson for the women’s directorate said the government is in the process of completing an order in council that will give the inquiry authority to examine issues here.

Elaine Taylor, the minister responsible for the directorate, called the inquiry “another important step towards finding answers and solutions to this grave issue.”

With a report from CP

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com