Good morning, Madam Chair and members of this committee. Thank you for inviting us to appear before you today to speak about the progress we're making in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
I'm Marion Buller. I'm the chief commissioner. With me today are my esteemed colleagues and fellow commissioners, Michèle Audette, Brian Eyolfson, and Qajaq Robinson.
This is the first time we've had the opportunity to appear before you to report on our work, our very important work, and it's important to note that we are now a few weeks into the second year of our two-year and four-month mandate.
The tragedy of our missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is felt so deeply and painfully by indigenous families, but it is also a painful legacy felt by all Canadians. Parliament and the of Canada have chosen to finally address this terrible legacy. The profound commitment of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is to listen to those who have suffered, to share their stories with all Canadians, and to learn what we can do to prevent other families from experiencing such suffering.
We are not inventing our mission on our own. Rather, we have been given the mandate by the government, with detailed terms of reference. These terms of reference were written following extensive consultations with indigenous communities across Canada, survivors of violence, and the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Those consultations have very strongly informed our terms of reference.
The terms of reference were adopted by all of the provinces and territories, so that makes us truly a national inquiry.
In fulfilling its mandate, the national inquiry is subject to the structures of working in the federal government. We have to adhere to the human resources, information technology, and contracting rules that apply to all areas of government. The national inquiry is not alone in finding these rules frustrating. Constructing the national inquiry was time-consuming; simultaneously, however, stakeholders were expecting urgent engagement and attention to the matters that so deeply concern them.
The good news is that despite the many challenges to the national inquiry, we are on track in getting our staff, offices, technology, and networks in place, and that's to deal with the important, painful substance of our work.
At the same time, the national inquiry research team has done a comprehensive review of related work and has assessed what has been done and not done by governments to follow up on the findings of the various reports and studies. It was essential to conduct this assessment so this national inquiry can take stock, learn from what has worked and what hasn't worked, and map out its own areas of emphasis so as to get the most value possible from all of our engagements, reflections, and ultimately, recommendations.
This has been a difficult year, and for many people, our progress has been too slow, but we wanted to do this right because we know there are risks associated with doing this work quickly and superficially.
There are four principles that apply to our work.
First, we want to empower and support people, not revictimize them. We are finding, of course, that the survivors of violence and the families of people who have been victimized and lost have undergone tremendous trauma. Therefore, we are not going to go into communities and asking people to put themselves at further psychological risk by talking about their experiences unless we are sure that we can provide them with the supports they need. We have put a health team in place, educated our national inquiry staff on trauma-related issues and service delivery, and of course we have adopted a trauma-informed approach to our work.
Second, we want to find solutions together, not impose them. In other words, we want to take a decolonized approach.
Indigenous people in Canada have been subjected to the colonial policies and agendas of the French, the English, and the Canadian governments. For hundreds of years, experts have sought to solve the “Indian problem” through a series of imposed solutions. No one ever seriously thought to consult with the indigenous people—let alone indigenous women specifically—about missionary work, reserves, the pass system, the Indian Act, forced relocations, or the child welfare system, simply because they did not trust indigenous people to run their own lives.
We want our work to continue to contribute to the resilience and revitalization of indigenous people. We believe that the most effective strategies will come from indigenous communities and nations themselves.
We committed ourselves to identify and follow specific cultural protocols when working with communities. We will ensure that we are welcome in a community before we go there. This takes time and effort, but it is essential to engage truly with communities.
Third, we want to include those who need to be heard. The families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls are often left feeling excluded and shut out by the police, the courts, social workers, and the media. We define families broadly by what we term “families of the heart”. These include foster families, adoptive families, and close friends. We recognize the importance of including indigenous women who are LGBTQ, non-binary, or two-spirited in our work.
Fourth, we want to build on the good work already done and not reinvent the wheel. We're not studying indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ2S people. We are studying the systemic causes of the violence they have experienced and the efforts and the policies of governments and agencies in response to violence. We have analyzed 100 reports containing about 1,200 recommendations. This is the most comprehensive literature review concerning existing reports, studies, and articles on violence against indigenous women and girls that has been completed to date.
As commissioners, we have collectively and individually been meeting with and taking advice from survivors, families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, our national family advisory circle, elders, knowledge keepers, young people, experts, academics, and representatives of national, indigenous, local, and feminist organizations.
Much of this work—the consulting, developing policy, hiring and training staff, and reviewing and analyzing reports—has gone on behind the scenes, but we are confident that this time and effort has been well spent. The work of the national inquiry is becoming increasingly public. Throughout the summer our staff members have been visiting communities across the country and will continue that outreach.
To talk about what we have done, I turn now to Commissioner Audette.
As I say, I'm not sure that the TRC experienced those same challenges, so I certainly was puzzled to hear that, given this is such a priority initiative of the government, not all the stops are pulled out to support you.
I want to now go into the communications aspect. This is, perhaps, a suggestion more than anything. Over the last while we tried phoning the number. As an MP, I make sure that 90% of the time when someone phones my office, they get a live person. People calling my office might not have phones available, or they might get to a place where they have no phone. To not have a live person they can talk to, but an answering machine saying we'll call you back sometime, I don't think works.
Why is there not, out of the 50-plus staff, a live person there on the end of the phone? Not the mental health phone, but someone reaching out to say, “I'd like to tell you my story.” They've managed to get to a phone, but all they reach is an answering machine.
Can we have one of those 50 people answering that phone live? To me, that's just a basic communication thing that needs to be done.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to our guests for being here today.
Whenever we're dealing with these topics I always like to put a face to them, because lots of times we talk about murdered and missing indigenous women and we talk about numbers and say, “There are 1,200 missing.”
Particularly, I want to talk about Bella Laboucan-McLean. Her dad lives in my riding. I know him quite well. Every time we talk, I ask him how he's doing. I've followed her particular case through the entire media; it's an ongoing thing. It's one of those cases that I really hope the murdered and missing indigenous women inquiry can bring us some answers to. I know I've spent a bunch of time trying to help her dad maybe get a private investigator, talking to all the journalists that have done some research on this. From my perspective, that's really where we need to go.
We all have offices. We all have to deal with the rigour of the accounting system around here. It drives everybody bonkers. However, that said, this was announced as a major priority for this government. You've said that it takes a long time to get staff in place, people on the phones and things like that. Do you have a champion in the PCO, or are they actually difficult to deal with?