VANCOUVER –A coalition of aboriginal women’s advocacy groups is expressing concerns about the national missing and murdered women’s inquiry, saying the commission has failed to adequately reach out to families.
The Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in British Columbia says it is worried about recent media reports that said the inquiry only had about 100 family members or survivors in its database.
A 2014 RCMP report said police had identified nearly 1,200 missing or murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.
Coalition member Fay Blaney said Monday she understands the federal government has not shared with commissioners the names of those who came forward during consultations due to privacy obligations.
The group is calling on the inquiry to immediately request that all levels of government and indigenous organizations contact family members and survivors to ensure they know how to register to be a witness.
“The main thing that we’re really pushing for today is to get more clear and increased communication from the commissioners, more encouragement, less passivity,” Blaney said at a news conference. “Get that database built up and do what you need to do.”
She said the coalition is concerned that federal, provincial and territorial governments are not using their offices to assist the inquiry.
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller was not immediately available to comment, but the inquiry is conducting preliminary meetings this month before the first public hearing is held May 29 in Whitehorse.
The commission has said families and survivors who would like to share their stories do not need to apply for standing and should instead send an email or call a toll-free number.
But Lorelei Williams, whose aunt went missing decades ago and whose cousin’s DNA was found on serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm, said the commission should be proactively reaching out to families and survivors.
“I’m feeling so frustrated and very upset about what is going on with this inquiry so far,” she said. “Families are freaking out right now.”
Williams questioned why consultations were held at all, if not to collect names of family members for the inquiry.
“What did they do that for?” she asked. “I’m going to assume that those families put their names forward for a reason. It’s really hard to come out and say that you’re a family member…. They want to be a part of this.”
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada spokesman Shawn Jackson said that it transferred to the national inquiry in November a database of information collected during the pre-inquiry process including recordings of meetings and correspondence.
“There are no restrictions on the commission using this information to contact potential witnesses for their inquiry,” he said in an email.
However, Jackson said many people participated in the consultations anonymously and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is prevented by privacy rules from providing the lists of participants.
He said the department has also shared with the inquiry its best practices, resources and methods used during the pre-inquiry to identify participants and continues to offer assistance in this way.
The coalition is also urging the inquiry to make efforts to include “families of the heart,” or friends. Evelyn Youngchief’s friend Georgina Papin was killed by Pickton and she said many friends of the missing and murdered would like to speak.
“We’ve been waiting for a very long time,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to come of (the inquiry), but changes need to be made on how aboriginal women are looked at. Stop killing us.”
Michele Pineault, whose daughter Stephanie Lane’s DNA was found on Pickton’s farm, said it has been difficult to tell her story over and over again for the past 20 years.
“If you had to tell it in the pre-inquiry, why are we having to do it again? It’s at a point now where I just want to say, ‘I want a life of normalcy. I just want to stay home and not have anything to do with this.’
“But I have to do it to the bitter end.”