CALGARY — Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she heard a familiar message Friday in her final meeting outside Ottawa with families of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Bennett said many victims' families in Calgary believe their concerns have been ignored by police.
"The upset was throughout the room," she said after the meeting. "What can happen is these cases are not deemed a homicide, and very early on it can be called a suicide or an accident or an overdose, and then there's no investigation," Bennett told a news conference with Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks in Ottawa as Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould looks on. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
Bennett has been on a cross-country tour to meet with families and other interested parties so parameters can be set for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women that is expected to begin by summer.
Only one meeting remains — in Ottawa on Monday.
Bennett said she's heard from 1,300 people during the preconsultations about "the uneven application of justice and the lack of support."
"They want to make sure that this doesn't happen to other families."
The RCMP issued a landmark report in 2014 which put the total of missing and murdered aboriginal women at 1,181. Indigenous women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but the report found they account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.
Hajdu had praise for the families who have come forward.
"They're willing to reopen in some cases long-standing wounds and share with us their perspectives on what an inquiry needs to examine and what usually went wrong in terms of cases with their loved ones," she said.
Bennett said once preconsultations are complete, the next step is to decide how the independent inquiry will proceed.
"The minute we get it launched, we are hands off. This is arms-length to government with an appropriate budget to actually do a decent piece of work," she said.
"We hope that all of the families that participated over these months will be able to see their fingerprints on the blueprint of the inquiry and feel that we've done our work properly."
Bennett said it will be a balancing act to make sure that the inquiry's focus isn't too narrow or too broad, which would make it impossible to complete in the time that the families expect.
In Edmonton, an organizer of a memorial march for missing and murdered indigenous women said the $40-million inquiry is a waste of money.
Danielle Boudreau told CHED radio that the inquiry will do little to alleviate the pain felt by aboriginal families.
"There's no money in this world — I don't care how much money you have — that is going to bring our family members back," Boudreau said.
Boudreau lost her sister, Juanita Cardinal, in a homicide 10 years ago.