Sur­vivors, fam­i­lies pained by MMIW de­par­ture

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - NATIONAL - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — Maggy Gisle fought for two decades for an in­quiry into miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women and girls, but she says the cur­rent com­mis­sion isn’t giv­ing her much to cling to.

Gisle, an abuse vic­tim, for­mer ad­dict and sex worker who spent 16 years on the Down­town East Side, said Fri­day she was shocked to find out through the me­dia that the in­quiry had lost a sec­ond ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, adding its com­mu­ni­ca­tion “re­ally sucks.”

She said she’s been vol­un­teer­ing her time to try to con­nect Indige­nous women who re­main on the streets with the com­mis­sion so their voices are not for­got­ten.

But she said the in­quiry “keeps drop­ping the ball.”

“It doesn’t give me faith in the process,” Gisle said in an in­ter­view, try­ing to hold back tears.

“What I’ve fought for since I was on the streets, since 1998, is that we be heard ... They need to hear the his­tory and the past but they also need to hear the present. They need to hear of the peo­ple who are still ... at the Down­town East Side.”

The fed­er­ally funded in­quiry con­firmed late Thurs­day its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Deb­bie Reid, left her job, but de­clined to com­ment fur­ther on a per­son­nel mat­ter.

Di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions Calvin Wong will step in as in­terim ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor ef­fec­tively im­me­di­ately, the com­mis­sion added.

“We thank Deb­bie for her con­tri­bu­tions,” it said in a state­ment. “We are en­sur­ing that the na­tional in­quiry’s work is not dis­rupted dur­ing this time of tran­si­tion.”

For her part, Crown-Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Car­olyn Ben­nett is not con­vinced.

“I am con­cerned about the amount of turnover at the com­mis­sion and that it will dis­tract from the work at hand,” Ben­nett said in a state­ment.

“They have a very im­por­tant job to do and that is to get answers for fam­i­lies.”

She won’t step in, how­ever. “While we share fam­i­lies’ con­cerns about the dif­fi­cul­ties we have seen — the in­de­pen­dence of the com­mis­sion is cru­cial and we aren’t go­ing to in­ter­fere in in­ter­nal mat­ters,” Ben­nett said.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties say it’s time for the fed­eral govern­ment to en­sure the com­mis­sion is on the right track, es­pe­cially as the in­quiry looks to make a for­mal ap­pli­ca­tion for more money and time.

The Lib­eral govern­ment ear­marked $53.8 mil­lion and two years for the in­quiry’s work.

“Be­fore any de­ci­sion is made around an ex­ten­sion, I think they need to be lis­ten­ing to the ad­vice they’ve been get­ting from hun­dreds of fam­i­lies, ad­vo­cates, vic­tims, groups like the AFN (Assem­bly of First Na­tions), groups like the Na­tive Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion,” said Con­ser­va­tive Indige­nous af­fairs critic Cathy McLeod. “They can’t con­tinue to have all th­ese red flags.”

In Novem­ber, the com­mis­sion re­leased a progress re­port de­tail­ing how govern­ment red tape de­layed ev­ery­thing from set­ting up proper phones and In­ter­net ac­cess to ob­tain­ing the ba­sic ma­te­ri­als staff mem­bers needed to sim­ply do their jobs.

The Na­tive Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada, which has given the in­quiry fail­ing grades for its work so far, said Fri­day it was “shocked” and “out­raged” to learn of Reid’s de­par­ture, adding fam­i­lies are en­dur­ing “very up­set­ting news” from the com­mis­sion.

Maggy Gisle

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