A ceremonial fire is lit at the beginning of the National Inquiry of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Richmond, B.C., Wednesday, April, 4, 2018. The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is fighting in court for access to two RCMP files the national police force is refusing to hand over. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Missing and murdered Indigenous women’s inquiry wages court fight for RCMP files

Court must weigh public interest in disclosing the two files to inquiry against public interest in keeping them under wraps

The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is fighting in court for access to two RCMP files the national police force is refusing to hand over.

The inquiry is set to issue its long-awaited report in June, but says it wants the contested Mountie files to complete its work on one of the saddest chapters in Canada’s recent history.

Little is publicly known about the two disputed files other than their titles: “Missing Person: Missing Indigenous Woman” and “Homicide: Murdered Indigenous Woman.”

Both sides have agreed to an expedited process and hope to have hearing dates on the dispute before mid-May in the Federal Court of Canada, said Catherine Kloczkowski, a spokeswoman for the inquiry.

Federal lawyers acting on behalf of the RCMP have yet to make submissions to the court.

In an April 8 notice of application outlining its case, the inquiry seeks a court order disclosing the two files to commission lawyers.

As part of its mandate, the inquiry established a forensic document-review team to confidentially review police and institutional files, seeking to identify systemic barriers or other weaknesses related to the protection of Indigenous women and girls. The ultimate aim was to make recommendations about the underlying causes of disappearances, deaths and acts of violence.

The inquiry issued two subpoenas last September directing the RCMP to disclose various files, according to the notice of application. In December, the police force produced written rationales claiming public-interest privilege over 59 files because the cases were still under investigation.

Federal lawyers and inquiry counsel then agreed to a procedure, in keeping with the common law, to test the RCMP’s claims of privilege on 12 files most keenly sought by the forensic document-review team.

An RCMP investigator with knowledge of each file was interviewed by an inquiry lawyer in front of one of the inquiry’s four commissioners. After the interviews, lawyers for each side made submissions. The sitting commissioner then ruled on whether public interest privilege had been established.

The interviews took place Jan. 10 before commissioner Brian Eyolfson and the next day in front of chief commissioner Marion Buller.

During the interviews, the inquiry abandoned its challenge on one file when it became apparent the matter was still actively under police investigation. In addition, the government dropped its claim of privilege over another file, leaving the fates of 10 files to be decided.

Eyolfson ordered one of these files to be turned over to the inquiry while finding another to be validly withheld.

Buller ordered the Mounties to produce the remaining eight files to inquiry counsel, finding no public-interest privilege. She later amended the order — with the consent of both parties — for six of the eight files to be handed over no later than March 28.

That left the two contested files now at the centre of the court battle.

Federal lawyers objected to their disclosure by filing certificates with the Federal Court under the Canada Evidence Act, which allows for a hearing to decide whether secrecy will prevail.

The court must weigh the public interest in disclosing the two files to the inquiry against any public interest in keeping them under wraps.

In its notice, the inquiry says the contested files “are no longer under active investigation” and should be given to the forensic document team.

Kloczkowski said that upon receiving the files the inquiry, under its terms of reference, could use them to make recommendations or refer the contents to authorities for further action.

The terms allow the commissioners to pass along information to appropriate agencies if it could be used in the investigation or prosecution of Criminal Code offences, or if it points to misconduct. The commissioners have already identified a “number of cases” that appear to warrant alerting authorities, Kloczkowski said.

Although the inquiry can’t disclose details of those cases, the number of referred cases will be made public at the end its mandate, she added.

READ MORE: Murdered and missing honoured at Stolen Sisters Memorial March in B.C.

READ MORE: Report about violence against Downtown Eastside women calls for change

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

BREAKING: West Fraser announces indefinite closure of Chasm

The third shift for the 100 Mile House location will also be eliminated

Enviro Club prepares for Wells Grey Provincial Park adventure

Recently students were out on Williams Lake brushing up on their canoe skills

Ranch Musings: Rebuilding ranching culture and learning to let go

Weekly column from local rancher David Zirnhelt

Williams Lake principal honoured with Governor General’s Medal

Shirley Giroux graduated from UNBC with her PhD in Health Sciences

PHOTOS: Elusive ‘ghost whale’ surfaces near Campbell River

Ecotourism operator captures images of the rare white orca

Victoria mom describes finding son ‘gone’ on first day of coroners inquest into overdose death

Resulting recommendations could change handling of youth records amidst the overdose crisis

Dash-cam video in trial of accused cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

Suicide confirmed in case of B.C. father who’d been missing for months

2018 disappearance sparked massive search for Ben Kilmer

Eight U.S. senators write to John Horgan over B.C. mining pollution

The dispute stems from Teck Resources’ coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley

Threats charge against Surrey’s Jaspal Atwal stayed

Atwal, 64, was at centre of controversy in 2018 over his attendance at prime minister’s reception in India

Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak in Surrey

He’s keynote speaker at Surrey Environment and Business Awards luncheon by Surrey Board of Trade Sept. 17

Otters devour 150 trout at Kootenay hatchery

The hatchery has lost close to 150 fish in the past several months

B.C. church’s Pride flag defaced for second time in 12 days

Delta’s Ladner United Church says it will continue to fly the flag for Pride month

Most Read