The federal government is considering a commission of inquiry
to investigate disappearances of aboriginal women, a cabinet minister and local
MP said Thursday, Nov. 27.
Chuck Strahl, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and
MP for the Pemberton Valley, told a late-afternoon conference call that the
government is considering a commission to investigate cases of missing women,
He said this in response to a question about a report from the
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
However, whether Strahl’s Conservative Party remains in power
long enough to convene a commission of inquiry remains to be seen. The
opposition Liberals have signed an agreement to form a coalition government
with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois and vowed to bring the Conservatives down in a
The CEDAW has expressed concern that “hundreds of cases
involving Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past
two decades” either haven’t been fully investigated or have not received
“priority attention,” with perpetrators walking away unpunished.
Strahl said he met with Beverley Jacobs, president of the
Native Women’s Association of Canada, on Thursday and discussed with her ways
to address the issue of missing women.
“We’re going to put together an action plan for violence
against women, particularly aboriginal women, who are unfortunately the single
biggest group of abused people in the country,” he said.
“Whether that needs to be a formal inquiry on this or not we’ve
agreed to work with Ms. Jacobs, and several other departments. I’m not going to
launch an inquiry because it would have to come through the Justice Department
or a combination of the above.”
Commissions of inquiry, however, don’t need to come through
Justice Canada. They may be discussed within the department but they are
established through orders-in-council, decisions made by a federal cabinet that
are thereafter approved by the Governor-General.
Jacobs, a member of the Iroquois Confederacy of Ontario’s Six
Nations council, thinks an inquiry is “highly likely.” She said that if there
were 510 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada that would equal
18,000 women among Canada’s white population.
“If there were 18,000 white women missing and murdered, it
would be headlines,” she said. “There would be something done immediately.”
The issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada
stretches back at least to 1998, when the
reported that at least 10 women had gone missing
from Vancouver’s drug-riddled Downtown Eastside since 1995.
By 2001 that number had climbed to 45 — many of them
aboriginal women who were caught up in Vancouver’s sex trade.
The issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women has hit
close to home for at least two First Nations communities in the Sea to Sky
April Lynn Reoch, a status member of the Squamish Nation, was a
drug addict living in the Downtown Eastside who went through detox programs
five times before she was found dead in 2000.
Her body was found in a fabric bag in the garbage area of a
Sherry Irving, meanwhile, was the sister of Chris Irving, who
is now a councillor with the Mount Currie band of the Lil’wat Nation. Irving
grew up with her family in Comox but left them in 1991 at age 19, according to
a Canadian Press story from 2006.
Her family moved to Ontario in 1991 but her parents later
divorced and her mother moved to Mount Currie.
It’s believed that Sherry visited Mount Currie on a few
occasions but never stayed long.
In 1996 she was convicted of prostitution-related offences and
had a prostitution charge laid against her in November of that year, but she
never appeared in court.
By that time, it’s believed she had disappeared.
Chris Irving, who did not respond to a request for comment,
first reported her missing to the Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police, according to the
Canadian Press article.
Port Coquitlam pig farmer Robert William Pickton has been
charged with Irving’s murder, along with those of 25 other women. Though
Pickton has been convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women,
there are 20 charges still outstanding that he’s not yet been tried for.
Jacobs stressed that an inquiry into missing aboriginal women
wouldn’t focus on British Columbia alone.
“This is a bigger, broader commitment that we want,” she said.
“It’s a national crisis, this is a national inquiry, a national commission that
needs to be implemented and taken seriously.”
Though the inquiry has yet to take shape, Jacobs said it would
likely focus on policing and what needs to change when investigating cases of
missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“It’s policing that’s the front line,” she said. “There’s also
already been inquiries, the Manitoba Justice Inquiry… there’s also the Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, that have said, the justice system has failed
“So if we’re focusing on policing, what needs to change, what
needs to be addressed, why aren’t they taking this seriously?”
Strahl said on the conference call that he doesn’t have a timeline for when government action on missing and murdered aboriginal women will happen, given that he only met with Jacobs that morning, but he also said he’s “not convinced” that a commission of inquiry will be necessary.