Commissioner calls for transparency on response to Indigenous women inquiry

MONTREAL — A commissioner who served on the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls implored the federal government for more transparency on its response to the final report’s calls for change.

Michele Audette’s remarks came on Saturday during what she and other advocates described as a time when Indigenous women are facing heightened risks of violence in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tell us where you are at. Give us some information,” Audette said at a news conference.

Audette said she and her fellow commissioners took in the voices, tears, anger and hopes of families of women and girls over the course of three years, during which the inquiry held hearings across the country.

Their final report was delivered to the federal government in June 2019 and included 231 calls for justice. While Audette said working groups have been formed to hash out a national action plan, it “feels like it’s taking forever.”

“My patience is very thin,” she said.

A statement from the National Action Plan Core Working Group in December said work was underway to develop the strategy, including an accountability framework, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

The Crown-Indigenous department website also sites a list of actions taken to address violence against Indigenous women and girls. It includes a commitment to end drinking water advisories, funding for Indigenous languages and a counselling phone line for Indigenous people.

Audette spoke during an online news conference with Indigenous leaders and activists ahead of the annual vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls on Sunday.

The first memorial march took place on Valentine’s Day in 1992 after Cheryl Ann Joe, a young Coast Salish mother, was murdered in East Vancouver.

Jessica Quijano, project coordinator at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, said nearly 30 years of grass-roots activism hasn’t been enough to instill the political will to make real changes across all levels of government.

At the same time, she said, women and girls are still facing significant levels of violence.

“It’s not slowing down,” she said.

Amanda LaBillois, an Indigenous navigator at Medecins du Monde which helps people access healthcare, says the situation has worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus have meant services for Indigenous communities are more difficult to access or have been cut altogether. She said there’s been an uptick in violence and a jump in overdoses. Indigenous women and girls who were already at risk have been marginalized further, she said.

“It’s really pushing people to understand with the pandemic going on that there is a major issue that isn’t being properly addressed,” she said.

Several speakers outlined causes of systemic violence against Indigenous women and girls, noting the commission’s calls for action include concrete solutions that could make a difference if properly implemented.

Each day without significant action on the recommendations means another woman is in danger, said Ghislain Picard, chief for the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

“Nearly two years later today and we still don’t have a blueprint of what needs to take place,” he said.

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