Putting a National Inquiry on the Radar
Kim Stanton, LEAF Legal Director
The IACHR Report arrives at a time when the Prime Minister has indicated that the call for a national inquiry on MMIW “isn’t really high on [his government’s] radar”. When the IACHR inquired of the government about plans for a national inquiry, the government advised that “money would be better spent on action rather than more recommendations” (para. 295). This response reflects a shallow view of the value of a public inquiry – if a national inquiry is provided with strong terms of reference, along with visionary commissioners who will make it a truly public inquiry, then a national inquiry is a very important action to take.
There is another problem with the government’s response. In support of its argument that “action” rather than further study was required, the federal government pointed to recommendations from over 45 reports that it says constitute adequate study (para. 299). While the various reports have touched upon related issues to varying degrees, none of these reports is from a national commission of inquiry focused on violence against Indigenous women. Further, research conducted by the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women (LSC) highlights the fact that very few of the over 700 recommendations made in those reports have been implemented. The LSC concludes that while there is consensus about the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, there has been very little response to address the crisis. A national, state-sponsored inquiry is needed to forcefully explore and address the causes of this lack of response.
This conclusion is now backed up by the IACHR Report, which ends with a discussion of “the question of a national inquiry”. The Report acknowledges the widespread support in Canada for a national inquiry, and notes that Canada has been instructed by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:
…to coordinate its various policies and programs in a comprehensive national strategy, a recommendation that was also made during Canada’s 2009 and 2013 Universal Periodic Review. Canada’s provincial premiers have also expressed support for a National Inquiry into the matter. The IACHR also notes that among the recommendations in its report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Canada, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, suggested that “the federal Government should undertake a comprehensive, nation-wide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, organized in consultation with indigenous peoples.” (para. 300)
The IACHR Report calls upon the government to provide a coordinated response to address the root causes of the violence and to improve its consultation with those most affected.
A national inquiry would create the road map for achieving these objectives. Such an inquiry is needed to examine why there has been so much resistance to implementation of known and recommended measures to address the issue. The purpose of such an inquiry is not simply, as the government’s response suggests, to make more recommendations. Its purpose is to be a catalyst for real change. A commission of inquiry can play an important pedagogical role through its very existence. If properly mandated and conscientiously run, a public inquiry into why we know Indigenous women are subjected to violence at a far higher rate than non-Indigenous women, and yet do so little about it, will educate the wider public on this issue. There are hard questions that need to be asked about the resistance of our society to honestly facing the systemic issues that plague us. A well-run commission will stimulate a national conversation about the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women, a conversation we cannot continue to avoid. The IACHR Report is the latest credible call to put a national inquiry on the radar.
Kim Stanton completed her doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law on truth commissions and public inquiries, and has published articles on the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, and the BC Missing Women Commission. She is the Legal Director of LEAF (which has supported the call for a national inquiry for the missing and murdered Indigenous women).
 The LSC is a nation-wide ad hoc coalition of groups and individuals formed in 2014 following the murder of Inuit university student Loretta Saunders, to marshal resources that address violence against Indigenous women. The preliminary research was conducted by volunteer legal researchers Pippa Feinstein and Megan Pearce.