When the RCMP acknowledged in 2014 that a staggering 1,200 Indigenous women in Canada had been murdered or gone missing without police bothering to investigate thoroughly, it was a watershed moment.
It legitimized decades of suspicion that not all victims are viewed as equally worthy of justice by authorities. It crystallized concerns about institutionalized racism and bureaucratic indifference. And it justified frustrations that the systems set up to protect citizens often fail the most vulnerable members of society.
But it also set in motion a process that was supposed to change all this, at long last. It took another year of refusals and the election of a new Prime Minister promising to reset relations with Canada’s Indigenous people before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was finally struck.
No one expected the commission to resolve such weighty and complex issues overnight, of course. But they certainly expected better than what they’ve got so far.
The $53-million commission is mired in controversy over its incomprehensible secrecy, lack of leadership, and inability to communicate effectively with the very people it was set up to help. It has been rocked by the resignations of high-profile commissioners and staff, who have not been shy about criticizing the process from outside.
In other words, it seems to be foundering under the weight of its lofty aspirations and the scope of its gargantuan task. There may still be time to salvage its crucial work. Recall that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, probing the traumatic legacy of residential schools, also had a rough start . But it was able to correct course and deliver a landmark report with more than 90 recommendations.
Let’s hope this latest inquiry, for murdered and missing Indigenous women, can be stabilized in time to fulfill its crucial mission. But while it spins its wheels, lives continue to be lost.
Two women who died in Montreal within two days of each other late last month were remembered at a vigil in Cabot Square Friday night. Their deaths are a stark reminder that Indigenous women in this city remain unacceptably vulnerable despite sweeping promises, millions of dollars, massive bureaucratic mobilizations, major investigations and growing public awareness.
Siasi Tullaugak and Sharon Barron were both Inuit women from different northern Quebec communities who struggled after coming to the city. Both were 27. Both existed on the margins of the eastern edge of downtown, where addiction, homelessness, violence and exploitation continue in the shadow of the condo boom transforming the neighbourhood. Both of their deaths are considered suicides by Montreal police.
But friends of Tullaugak say they have serious doubts.
Tullaugak was found hanging from her Chomedey St. balcony on Aug. 28. The last people to see her alive told Montreal Gazette reporter Christopher Curtis they saw her leave a nearby building in the company of a man just hours before she died. They fear she may have been the victim of foul play. When they tried to relay this information to police, the witnesses say officers didn’t want to write it down.
Mistrust of the authorities is understandable among the homeless population of eastern downtown, where sexual assaults are rarely reported to police and street justice is more likely to prevail when there are disputes. The hundreds of cold cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women continue to loom large, even with an inquiry that is supposed to bring some measure of closure. But there are countless other examples of justice thwarted.
Just this week, a review examining whether a car wreck that killed five Indigenous Quebecers in 1977 was the result of criminal behaviour came up empty. The fact that people […]
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