Canada Slammed for ‘Lack of Progress’ on Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Canada Slammed for ‘Lack of Progress’ on Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
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Canada Slammed for ‘Lack of Progress’ on Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

A Indigenous women's advocacy group is demanding more transparency and calling out the government for what they see as a "lack of progress" in Canada's national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

The condemnation comes a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood on the steps of Parliament and denounced Canada for repaying Indigenous people with "neglect" and "indifference" during a vigil honouring Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, whose body was found in an Ottawa river two weeks ago.

In a press release Wednesday, the Native Women's Association of Canada slammed the government for a lack of communication and called for easily accessible information on office locations, how to reach commissioners and their staff, how members of the public can get involved, as well as a straightforward website.

"We are very disappointed to see that over two months into the two-year Inquiry mandate, no visible progress has been made," said President Francyne Joe in a press release. "Family members, loved ones have been waiting for decades to be heard. We recognize that it a big task to start a National Inquiry but the lack of communication has been disappointing and worrying."

A 2014 RCMP report found 1,181 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada between 1980 to 2012, although Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous Affairs, has said the true figure is "way bigger."

The inquiry is expected to investigate how cases were handled by police forces, many of which have been accused by families of racism and not taking complaints seriously.

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Vigils, like the Ottawa one attended by the prime minister, were held across the country on Tuesday in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Trudeau said he hoped the event would continue for "many decades and centuries, to remember the beautiful sisters that were taken from us and that we weren't able to protect and uphold."

"But I hope in the coming years, we'll be able to do it as a remembrance of things past, and not as a reflection of an ongoing national tragedy that continues," he said.

A photo of Pootoogook, an award-winning artist from Capt Dorset, Nunavut, who had received international recognition for her depictions of life in Canada's North, was featured prominently by a crowd of protesters who gathered on Parliament Hill, along with photos of other missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Read More: Why a Ottawa Cop Won't Be Held Accountable for Racist Comments

Although Ottawa police said initially that they didn't suspect foul play in Pootoogook's death, the investigation was subsequently taken over by the force's major crimes unit. There were elements of the case that were "suspicious," police said.

Activists say the initial dismissal of Pootoogook's death is rooted in systemic racism.

"It is shameful that the police said there was no suspicion when we Inuit knew there was something suspicious, so were ahead of them right from the beginning," said Sytukie Joamie, an Inuit community worker, who added that Pootoogook had been afraid of water and never went near it.

The vigil comes a week after the Ottawa Police Service launched a probe into one of its own officers for racist remarks about Pootoogook allegedly posted in an online comment section under his Facebook account, suggesting that Pootoogook's death wasn't a murder but an accident or a suicide, the result of alcoholism or drug abuse.

The comment was discovered by Veldon Coburn, the adoptive father of Pootoogook's daughter.

"It is the racists of that department who hindered the investigation right from the beginning and said those racist remarks," said Joamie.

Ottawa's police chief has called the comments "inappropriate" but maintained that he has no evidence that there are racist officers on his force.

Trudeau cautioned that repairing the "broken trust" between Canada and Indigenous peoples won't happen overnight.

"And it's not something that a prime minister or a government can do on their own... everyone who lives today on this land shares the responsibility to honour those who have always lived here, who welcomed us, who helped us make it through those first long winters, and who we have repaid with neglect, indifference."

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter.