Carolyn Bennett Meets Families Of MMIW Ahead Of Inquiry Announcement

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OTTAWA — After shaping the design and scope of the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, the federal government is set to hand over the process to five commissioners Wednesday at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.

A ceremony, expected to feature a number of indigenous traditions, will be held in the morning to mark the beginning of the commission's work.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu will be on hand for the event. The ministers are also expected to meet the families of some victims following the announcement.

It is expected to be a highly emotional day for a number of long-time advocates who have repeatedly called on the federal government to open a national public inquiry into the phenomenon of missing and murdered indigenous women.

carolyn bennett
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks on Parliament Hill in January 2016 as Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould looks on. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

The study — resisted by the Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper — was a key Liberal campaign promise during the last federal election.

Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of an organization representing First Nations in northern Manitoba, said Tuesday she hopes the study will help unravel the "massive problem" piece by piece.

She said she's hoping the government will speak "directly to the hearts and minds" of indigenous families on Wednesday.

During the course of their work, the commissioners will have the power to summon witnesses and compel testimony.

Two central questions for the upcoming process include how long will the study take and how much will it all cost?

$40 million set aside for inquiry

The federal government has earmarked $40 million over two years for the inquiry but Bennett has said this is a placeholder budget and stressed the need to get the process "right."

It is expected that the commissioners could face a number of challenges during the course of their work, such as the need to examine the nature of violence against indigenous women in urban centres and in indigenous communities themselves.

Joan Jack, an Ojibway activist from Manitoba, has stressed the need for the inquiry to look at what is happening on reserve.

Women are routinely oppressed and subjected to violence, she said.

"There's just a level of violence in our communities that is a crisis and no one seems to care."

"It is only the very strongest and very connected women that are able to rise above that," Jack said in an interview Tuesday.

"There's just a level of violence in our communities that is a crisis and no one seems to care."

There will have to be a lot of healing inside communities, North Wilson said, adding she hopes Canadians will use the inquiry process to better understand what is happening to indigenous women and girls.

"We have a lot to contribute as indigenous women and girls,'' North Wilson said.

"We want the same thing that everybody wants — we want health, we want equality, we want jobs, we want to be educated and we want opportunities ... we should be afforded that. That's at the heart of the issue ... it is a Canadian problem."

1,181 MMIW between 1980 and 2012

In May 2014, the RCMP released a report documenting 1,181 murdered and missing women between 1980 and 2012.

A year later, it said 32 aboriginal women had been murdered and 11 more had disappeared since it first reported on the issue.

The RCMP also noted there is an "unmistakable connection between homicide and family violence."

The force said the relationship between victim and offender was particularly relevant because more than 90 per cent of the women in the homicide data were known to the offender.

Mistrust toward police forces and the need to examine officer conduct is also expected to be a central theme of the inquiry process.

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