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5 years after MMIWG inquiry’s final report, former commissioners still waiting for progress

Five years after a national inquiry delivered more than 200 recommendations aimed at protecting Indigenous women and girls from going missing or being murdered, former commissioners say there’s been too little systemic change across the country.

Former chief commissioner of the inquiry Marion Buller and fellow commissioner Michèle Audette, who now sits as a Quebec senator, told CBC News they aren’t seeing evidence of the political will needed to deliver the paradigm shift in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous women and girls they called for in 2019.

“We’re frustrated, disappointed,” Audette said.

“We lost faith in what [governments and public institutions] said they would do.”

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) was delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on June 3, 2019. It concluded the MMIWG crisis amounts to a genocide.

The report contained 231 calls for justice aimed at all levels of government and sectors in society, including police, health providers, the justice system and media.

Since then, governments and public institutions have pledged action. Prime Minister Trudeau promised to turn the inquiry’s recommendations into meaningful, Indigenous-led action.

The former commissioners said they’re still waiting.

Former chief commissioner Marion Buller (left) and former commissioner Michèle Audette (right) during the closing ceremonies of the national inquiry.
(Left to right) Chief commissioner Marion Buller and commissioners Brian Eyolfson, Qajaq Robinson and Michèle Audette prepare the final report to give to the government at the closing ceremony for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Que., on Mon. June 3, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

On the fifth anniversary of issuing their final report, Buller and Audette are urging the federal government to use what remains of its mandate to accelerate work on MMIWG and bring the lasting change they called for.

“The government can move,” Buller said. “They want to be re-elected and what … they need to do [is] make firm changes, firm systemic changes, honourable changes to the way the federal government is approaching the genocide.”

Former commissioner nervous about future government

Since Audette was appointed to the Senate in 2021, she’s pushed the government to move more quickly on MMIWG.

While she said she’s expressed her disappointment with cabinet ministers directly, she’s also concerned about a change in government. 

Audette, who ran in the 2015 federal election for the Liberals in the Quebec riding of Terrebonne, said she hasn’t seen a firm commitment from the Conservative Party about how it would advance work on MMIWG.

She said she’s worried MMIWG advocates may have to turn to protest again, as they did during Idle No More under former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

“I’m nervous,” Audette said. “I have big fear or concern that we will have to go on the street again.”

Harper refused to hold a federal inquiry into MMIWG. 

Marchers hold a banner that says "search the landfill" in the middle of a downtown Ottawa street.
People march towards Parliament Hill on an International Day of Action to Search the Landfills, in Ottawa on Sept. 18, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who held several cabinet positions in Harper’s government, has since said every effort must be made to protect Indigenous women from violence. 

Poilievre made the comment in response to a question about whether a Conservative government led by him would support a landfill search for the victims of an alleged serial killer in Manitoba. He replied that every effort must be made to find the remains of murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Earlier this year, the federal and Manitoba governments each pledged $20 million to search the Prairie Green Landfill for human remains. The funding is in addition to $1.2 million set aside for a feasibility and planning assessment. 

The government also announced a new pilot project for a MMIWG public alert system in Manitoba, which may lead to a national “red dress alert” system. 

Long-term funding still needed to address MMIWG

Ottawa has committed more than $2 billion to respond to the inquiry’s calls for justice. 

Buller said that sounds like a lot of money, but long-term, sustainable funding is still needed.

Too often, Buller said, the government makes budget allocations for projects with limited time spans without accounting for money actually spent to determine if it was productive or reasonable. 

“I don’t think any Canadian should be satisfied with federal government handouts, especially for a crisis like missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada,” she said.

A red dress hangs from a lamppost in front of a legislature.
The federal government has pledged $20 million for the search of the Prairie Green Landfill for human remains. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Buller said there are still far too many Indigenous children in foster care and too many overdose deaths and suicides in Indigenous communities, coupled with high poverty levels.

But there are signs of progress.

A private member’s bill sponsored by NDP MP Leah Gazan, C-223, and another in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Kim Pate, S-233, could lead to a national framework for a guaranteed livable basic income, which was called for by the commissioners. 

Buller commended a rise in Indigenous high school graduation rates and a move by northern regions in particular to implement more accessible shelters and affordable housing.

“There are changes happening,” Buller said. “Canada can lead the way.”

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