Family members of victims of the Highway of Tears have called for rural and remote consultation after the Liberal government launched the first phase of a long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women today.
At a press conference in Ottawa this afternoon, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the first step of the inquiry would be to meet with families in the Ottawa region to seek their input on the inquiry’s design and its goals.
“And over the next two months, we will hear from more families, other indigenous peoples, national aboriginal organizations and a range of front line services workers, and others,” said Wilson-Raybould.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the consultations would help to identify potential terms of reference for the inquiry, its activities and who should lead it.
“All of what we will hear will help us determine our objectives, the scope and parameters of the inquiry,” she said.
An online survey will also be launched and some communities will receive information in the mail, she said.
According to CBC News, Bennett said phase 2 would be the inquiry itself, which the government hopes to announce in spring 2016.
After years campaigning for a national inquiry, Smithers woman Matilda Wilson was happy when she saw the announcement on television today.
Her daughter Ramona was 16 when she disappeared along Highway 16 in 1994. Her body was found near the Smithers Regional Airport the following year.
Wilson hopes the inquiry will lead to better education to protect vulnerable women, improved transportation along Highway 16 and reduced poverty.
She said the inquiry would need to travel to remote parts of northwest B.C. to fully understand the challenges facing indigenous women and girls.
“There’s been a lot of talk from different people, especially in Victoria and Vancouver,” she said.
“They have no idea how isolated some of these little villages are, how you have to get to town, how you have to get to your appointments, how do you have to get to school.”
Wilson also hopes the inquiry will bring to light information that could re-open unsolved cases like Ramona’s.
She wants the inquiry to look at each case individually to help find answers for victims’ families.
“It’s been 21 years and I’m still praying that some day her murder will be solved,” she said.
“I say the same thing for the missing that are not found, they will be found, I know they will be.
“I pray every day for these parents and relatives that are still going through this right now.”
Vancouver-based Gladys Radek runs an organization called Tears4Justice, which works with victims’ families and raises awareness about the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.
She started the group after she lost her niece Tamara Chipman, aged 22, who vanished from Highway 16 near Prince Rupert in 2005.
Radek said the inquiry would need to travel to every community to consult with every affected family.
She believes the scale of the inquiry should be similar to that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which collected thousands of statements from residential school survivors and their families.
“To be more effective they should be going community by community, because that way you are not going to be overwhelmed,” she said.
“Should they feel that they want to meet on a provincial level that would be good too, because they are going to be overwhelmed with the stories.”
She said today’s announcement gave her some hope but she was still apprehensive about how effective the inquiry would be.
“It’s just really hard to really get excited about it, especially knowing how hard we worked for decades trying to bring this to the attention of Canadians,” she said.
“I’m a little apprehensive, we’ve had promise given before.”