Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett takes her seat as she wait to appear before the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee in Ottawa on March 10, 2020. Disheartened, disappointed, disbelieving. But still determined. Indigenous women and leaders fighting to end violence against Indigenous women in Canada say that’s how they feel about Wednesday’s anniversary of the final report of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Families of victims who shared painful testimonies about the deaths and disappearances of their loved ones hoped their truths would spark immediate action and meaningful change. But Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s announcement last week that Ottawa is delaying its national action plan because of the COVID-19 pandemic has instead sparked widespread dismay.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett takes her seat as she wait to appear before the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee in Ottawa on March 10, 2020. Disheartened, disappointed, disbelieving. But still determined. Indigenous women and leaders fighting to end violence against Indigenous women in Canada say that’s how they feel about Wednesday’s anniversary of the final report of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Families of victims who shared painful testimonies about the deaths and disappearances of their loved ones hoped their truths would spark immediate action and meaningful change. But Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s announcement last week that Ottawa is delaying its national action plan because of the COVID-19 pandemic has instead sparked widespread dismay.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Federal delay of MMIWG action plan sparks dismay ahead of inquiry anniversary

Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, said she doesn’t buy the pandemic as an explanation for the delay

Disheartened, disappointed, disbelieving. But still determined.

Indigenous women and leaders fighting to end violence against Indigenous women in Canada say that’s how they feel about Wednesday’s anniversary of the final report of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Families of victims who shared painful testimonies about the deaths and disappearances of their loved ones hoped their truths would spark immediate action and meaningful change.

But Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s announcement last week that Ottawa is delaying its national action plan because of the COVID-19 pandemic has instead sparked widespread dismay.

“These families opened their hearts and soul about their missing daughter, their mother, their sister, their aunt, their wives. And how heartbreaking is that when you feel there is some hope, that the government is truly listening to you, when nothing has been done in a year,” said Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

“For that excuse to be used, that’s an embarrassment to the government.”

The inquiry delivered its final report June 3, 2019 with a stunning conclusion that decades of systemic racism and human-rights violations had contributed to the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of Indigenous women and girls in Canada and that it constituted a genocide.

Many were hopeful the national action plan promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when the report was released would be delivered in time for the June 3 anniversary this year — something Bennett promised in December.

Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, said she doesn’t buy the pandemic as an explanation for the delay.

“The government has had 10 months prior to the real hit of COVID in order to lay the groundwork,” she said.

“To say COVID is slowing things down, or we can’t do our work because of COVID because we can’t meet, et cetera, really isn’t a viable excuse because of all the time that passed prior to the real big wave of COVID hitting Canada.”

READ MORE: Violence against Indigenous women during COVID-19 sparks calls for MMIWG plan

The inquiry was launched in August 2016 and heard from more than 2,300 people over two years.

The recommendations for action spanned themes of health, justice, security and culture, including a number of calls for more effective responses to human-trafficking and sexual exploitation and violence, including in the sex industry.

A national action plan was at the top of the list.

Buller says she is concerned not only by the delay in the plan, but also by the lack of transparency in what work has been done and when the final plan will come.

Bennett would not commit to a timeline, citing COVID-19 uncertainties.

“We don’t know what, if anything, the government has done to move ahead,” Buller said.

“If they have done something, we don’t know who they’ve done it with. This is not publicly available information. There’s no place to go to find out what’s been happening.”

Michele Audette, who also served as an inquiry commissioner, said she wasn’t surprised to see Ottawa delay its response.

She believes even before the pandemic, the fall federal election and the countrywide protests over running a pipeline through traditional Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia earlier this year distracted the government.

“Of course I am also disappointed, I had so much hope before the inquiry and more during the inquiry and of course after also,” Audette said.

Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said she had hoped to see Ottawa’s plans for moving forward and finding healing in time for the anniversary.

“I’m disappointed … especially for the victims’ families who participated,” she said. ”It was very painful and for it to be delayed again is disappointing to them.”

She pressed Bennett last week for a timeline, and is pushing for a new December deadline.

Buller and others who work closely with the families of victims say they are in the dark not only about timing, but also about who has been included in Ottawa’s work on this file.

The inquiry report explicitly called for the perspectives and participation of the families of the missing and murdered and survivors of violence to be included in implementation of the calls for justice.

But many families say they’ve not been part of those conversations, Buller said.

“They have been reaching out to me, asking, ’What’s happening? What’s going on?’ Because they haven’t been consulted, they haven’t been involved,” she said.

“I don’t know if it’s a matter of government talking to other people and not the ones that I keep in touch with, if they’re not talking to anyone, I don’t know. Because there’s no way of finding out.”

On Monday, Trudeau said the COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with the government’s plans.

“Right now, in this challenge around COVID, many of our partner organizations are very much focused on supporting their communities,” he said.

“We continue to work on the strategy to fight gender-based violence and respond to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry, but the work is affected because of COVID-19. But it remains a priority not just for us but for all Canadians that we will continue to work on.”

Tuesday, as he consistently has, Trudeau avoided agreeing with the inquiry’s conclusion that the treatment of Indigenous women in Canada constitutes a genocide when a reporter asked him.

“Very strong words are necessary” to talk about an appalling history, he said, but he prefers to focus on reconciliation, partnership and progress.

“There are lots of words that can be used, we need to use them, and we need to move forward.”

Many grassroots organizations haven’t waited for governments to act, including the Native Women’s Association, which was instrumental in pushing the federal government to hold the inquiry.

The association will hold a virtual event on June 3 to detail steps taken over the last year by Indigenous women to address and implement the calls for justice as well as a list of recommendations to the government for moving forward on a plan.

Whitman said she sent these recommendations to Bennett’s office twice in the last month, but hasn’t received any response.

“That’s really disheartening for the families, and that’s where I go back to. This is about the families.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said Indigenous leaders are firm in their resolve to ensure Canada keeps its promises to make the country safer for Indigenous women and girls.

“When it comes to dealing with ending violence against Indigenous women and girls, nothing is acceptable. We have to move on this sooner than later.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Indigenousracism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – check point at Manning Park

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Man charged after multiple mail thefts in Surrey: RCMP

Police say man was reported to be carrying a crowbar and looking into vehicles

Dr. Bonnie Henry B.C.'s provincial health officer, updates the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
Province ‘ramping up’ COVID-19 vaccination effort in hard-hit Surrey

‘Door-to-door’ registration program in the works, says Dr. Bonnie Henry

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Serena Deol, Jaspreet Deol, Madison Sweeney and Tanveer Pannu (pictured clockwise from top left) are Surrey United soccer players recruited to the University of Fraser Valley. (submitted photos)
Surrey United soccer quartet sign to play for UFV Cascades

Three of the university’s recruits are Panorama Ridge Secondary students

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read