Missing and murdered inquiry cannot fail
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
If the Trudeau government thinks it is taking a lot of heat over the Omar Khadr settlement, it hasn’t seen anything compared to what it will face if it continues to fumble the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The Khadr hostility is misplaced. Canada did nothing different than what the UK and Australia were compelled to do when their citizens were held illegally by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. When enough people realize that, the controversy will fade. But if the government allows the inquiry to founder, the results will be far more long lasting.
This week, one of five inquiry commissioners resigned, saying: “It is clear to me that I am unable to perform my duties as a commissioner with the process in its current structure.” Marilyn Poitras’ resignation follows the departure of key staff members, including the executive director and four other senior staff.
There have been complaints from families of missing women, most centring on poor or no communication and consultation. Six Nations, the largest reserve in Canada, is requesting a hearing in its territory, but has had no response from the commission. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has reported the biggest problem is a lack of outreach to the families of victims. Further victimization of already traumatized families is a sin the inquiry may not withstand. The Ontario Native Women’s Association says it can no longer support the format and approach of the inquiry. Dr. Dawn Harvard, president of ONWA, wrote in a letter to commissioners: “The inquiry, as it is currently formed, is leaving us with significant doubts on the ability to achieve their mandate.”
What makes all this worse is the apparent unwillingness to acknowledge the problems. Last week, chief commissioner Marion Buller assured Canadians the inquiry is on track and moving at “lightning speed.” She is facing calls for her resignation along with demands for a complete overhaul and new terms of reference.
Let’s be clear: If the inquiry continues to flounder, it will violate the trust Indigenous people have placed in the government. The pledge of true reconciliation will be severely damaged. And the Trudeau government will squander any goodwill that has been accumulated. That cannot be allowed to happen. This cannot be allowed to fail.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett met with inquiry leadership and subsequently with the press, telling reporters: “They really do have the vision, the values, the tools and the plan to get this work done,” but acknowledging the growing concerns and communication shortfalls. That amounts to a defence of the status quo. Amid growing calls for a complete reset, it is unlikely Bennett’s response will be adequate.