VANCOUVER—In its extensive final report, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls details Canada’s shameful failure to protect and provide justice for Indigenous people.
It acknowledges the genocide that has especially targeted Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.
What it has not done, though, is solve the thousands of deaths and disappearances that still weigh on families and communities across the country.
That’s where the focus must be now, said Sheila North, a long-time MMIW advocate and the former Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
“I would say almost all of the families, they want answers, they want closure, they want resolution on what has happened to their loved ones, and this inquiry hasn’t done that,” she said by phone Saturday.
North said she supports the recommendation, with the important caveat that any task force be led by Indigenous people and Indigenous police officers.
“I believe there are lots of answers within the communities, but a lot of (people) won’t share it with police agencies because they don’t trust them,” she said.
North, a former journalist who made a documentary on the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls, said all of the families she spoke with had some sort of negative relationship with police when they first reported a missing or murdered loved one.
The inquiry heard similar stories.
Since it began in 2016, participants from across the country have shared stories with the inquiry of police turning them away when they needed help, of an unwillingness to investigate disappearances when loved ones went missing and of racist stereotyping that “contributed to an even greater loss of trust in police and in related agencies.”
One mother, identified in the report as Bernice C., told the inquiry that when she went to police in Portage la Prairie, Man., to report her 18-year-old daughter Jennifer was missing in 2008, her concerns were minimized and dismissed by the officer, who said, “Oh, give her a week. She’s on a drunk.”
“Who is he to make an opinion like that?” Bernice said, according to the report.
It’s been more than 10 years and Bernice and her husband are still searching for their daughter.
“I want you to understand, and I want the public and Canada and the world to know, how we were failed, how Jennifer was failed. The RCMP failed her. How? You say, ‘How?’ They didn’t take my statement. They didn’t take me seriously,” Bernice said.
Bernice isn’t alone.
“Unfortunately, Bernice’s account of her initial encounter with the police is not unlike a number of other similar stories shared by other families of missing and murdered women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” the report says.
The inquiry also heard from participants who feared reporting violence to police could result in child protection organizations becoming involved or their own arrest.
Indigenous women are significantly overrepresented in Canadian prisons. Though they make up just 4 per cent of the Canadian population, Indigenous women account for 40 per cent of the federal prison population, the report notes.
The inquiry found “there is a clear connection between the violence that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls experience and their overincaceration. When Indigenous women are incarcerated because of violent crime, it is most often a response to the violence they experience.”
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testified before the inquiry last summer and offered an apology on behalf of the force.
“I’m sorry that, for too many of you, the RCMP was not the police service that it needed to be during this terrible time in your life,” she said.
“It is very clear to me that the RCMP could have done better, and I promise to you we will do better. You are entitled to to nothing less than our best work in your communities,” she said.
“I want this apology to be just one more step in the RCMP’s commitment to reconciliation.”
Moving forward, the report calls for police services to acknowledge the relationship between Indigenous people and the justice system “must be based on respect and understanding.”
Change is needed in all governments and at all levels.
“There are systemic problem within every part of those systems that are linked to racism and colonialism and genocide,” North said.
“We have to make an acknowledgement of that and not use the same system that put us here in the first place.”
With files from Jeremy Nuttal and The Canadian Press
Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based reporter covering the environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ainscruickshank