Missing and mur­dered in­quiry can­not fail

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

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.

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