Indigenous minister gives B.C. First Nations faith in missing women inquiry

Indigenous minister gives B.C. First Nations faith in missing women inquiry

B.C. families urge national inquiry to get it right (with VIDEO)

VANCOUVER – It wasn’t until Canada’s first aboriginal justice minister took the stage to outline a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women that the tears began to stream down Lorelei Williams’ face and she let herself believe that this time things might be different.

Williams, whose aunt disappeared nearly four decades ago and whose cousin’s DNA was discovered on the farm of serial killer Robert Pickton, said Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s involvement makes a world of difference.

“I have issues trusting the government. When (Indigenous Affairs) Minister Carolyn Bennett was speaking, and Minister (of Status of Women) Patty Hajdu, I was having trouble believing them,” Williams said on Wednesday, hours after the inquiry’s terms of reference were announced.

“But when Minister Wilson-Raybould came up, then I was like, ‘OK, there’s actually hope here. One of our women is up there and I really, truly believe she is going to do something.'”

Williams’ and Wilson-Raybould’s home province of British Columbia has been especially hard hit by disappearances and murders of indigenous women, from Pickton’s notorious killing spree to the Highway of Tears, where women have vanished.

Provincially focused inquiries have been conducted and recommendations made, but the lack of follow-through has left many profoundly skeptical about the prospect of real change.

In the aftermath of the Pickton’s conviction, former attorney general Wally Oppal was tasked with conducting an inquiry into missing and murdered women in the province.

The report, entitled “The Forsaken,” was criticized for failing to allow families to play a bigger role in the process.

Williams said that, while optimistic, she’s concerned the newly announced inquiry will focus on systemic issues without fixing them, and urged the government to develop a plan to implement the findings, along with more than 700 recommendations already generated from other reports.

A coalition of British Columbia families and support groups said there’s no room for mistakes this time around.

Mary Teegee, with Carrier Sekani Family Services, said the federal government’s decision to call the inquiry finally acknowledges there is a problem.

“(The fact) that nothing has been done for all these years, that is a mark of racism â€” that people could overlook thousands of missing and murdered Indian women and it wasn’t a national crisis until just recently,” she told a news conference Wednesday in Vancouver.

“This is not an indigenous problem. It’s not a women’s problem. It’s a Canadian problem that we need to work together to deal with,” she added, describing the inquiry as a good first step.

Teegee expressed optimism about what she called a “spirit of reconciliation” conveyed by the federal Liberal government, but added that inquiries are worthless without the resources to ensure recommendations can be followed up on.

“We know that many reports sit on a shelf gathering dust. We want to make sure this doesn’t happen,” she said. “It’s too important to get it wrong.”

Keira Smith-Tague of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter said her organization is concerned about the absence of any explicit reference to how policing will be reviewed.

“Saying the police are involved or co-operative is not enough and this is not the time to be vague,” Smith-Tague said.

“We need … a process to hold police accountable for their failures to protect indigenous women and girls from male violence.”

It would be a joke and an insult to refer women with concerns over how missing-person reports were handled back to the same police forces that failed them in the beginning, she added.

The inquiry is scheduled to begin on Sept. 1 and operate at arms length from government. It’s expected to last at least two years and cost at least $53.8 million, nearly $14 million more than originally envisioned.

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The red rock garden in Williams Lake was filled with new rocks in recognition of the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Red rocks left as reminder of missing and murdered local women in Williams Lake

May 5 marked the National Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Kari, a 12-year-old Belted Galloway, produced triplets Wednesday, April 27. Mother and babies are doing fine. (Kelly Sinoski photo -100 Mile Free Press).
Holy cow: triplets born in 100 Mile House

Linda and Don Savjord witnessed a rare experience last week at Bridge Creek Ranch.

Fireman’s Fairways between Chimney and Felker lakes is slated to open soon, following a clean up work bee this Sunday, May 9 starting at 10 a.m. (Photo submitted)
Cleanup slated for Sunday, May 9 at Fireman’s Fairways Golf Course

Fireman’s Fairway is an 11-hole, par 3 course, opened in 1994

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The White House says it is making plans to share up to 60 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 11,075 since the pandemic began

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Most Read