OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the one who promised a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, but the provinces still need to sign off on the details.
The recommendations that came out of the Liberal government’s consultations earlier this year were clear: the upcoming national inquiry should have the authority to make recommendations within provincial and territorial jurisdictions as part of a larger attempt to tackle what the inquiry will determine are the root causes of the issue.
That authority does not come automatically, however, which is why officials at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada are having some back-and-forth discussions with the provinces and territories over the terms of reference, which sources said the federal government proposed in early June.
The feds gave provincial governments only a few weeks to discuss and approve their own orders-in-council — potentially turning over the provincial books on everything from policing to child welfare services — in time to launch the second phase of the inquiry by the end of this month as originally planned.
Some provincial and territorial governments had questions and concerns about their roles and responsibilities in the national inquiry, including who was going to cover the cost of travel and other support for families and whether legal representation would be required.
Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said the proposed terms of reference “were fairly vague”, leaving the province with unanswered questions about an inquiry her government is otherwise eager to support.
“We think it’s really important, but we do think it’s important to know precisely what it is we are going to be doing,” Ganley said in an interview.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was not available for an interview and her office did not comment in time for publication.
Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said her province supports a national inquiry, but is still in talks with the federal government over the terms of reference.
Stefanson said it is too early to go into details, but suggested Manitoba might have some reservations about how much a national inquiry would delve into its child welfare system, particularly if it treads ground already covered by the provincial auditor general and the inquiry into the 2005 murder of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair.
“We just want to make sure there is not overlap and duplication as far as Manitoba is concerned,” she said in an interview.
If Ottawa does push for those areas to be examined, Stefanson said they should be prepared to pick up the tab.
“It’s a national inquiry and if they want to look at the costs associated with that, then that’s up to them,” she said.
Others told The Canadian Press they want recognition of special circumstances.
Quebec, for example, said it wants the inquiry to take into account what has happened since Radio-Canada reported allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Surete de Quebec police force against indigenous women in Val d’Or, as well as the linguistic reality of French-speaking indigenous communities in the province.
Nunavut wants the inquiry to include a specific focus on Inuit women, as well as the fact that the majority of its cases involve domestic violence.
Organizations that have long pushed for a national inquiry have stressed the importance of getting the provinces and territories on board.
Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action said getting buy-in from the provinces is essential to the success of the inquiry.
“The national inquiry can’t do the work that indigenous women need it to do unless the provinces and territories have bought in in such a way that their policies and practices and programs and policing in provincial and territorial regions can also be scrutinized,” said Day, whose organization is part of the coalition.
“This is a fundamental issue. We have to have them in. Otherwise, we don’t have a national inquiry, we have a federal inquiry, which is very limited,” she said.
Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, suggested the inquiry might be open to a creative compromise when it comes to areas particular provinces feel they have already adequately addressed, such as the child welfare system in Manitoba.
“If there are areas where the other inquiry looked into something and can be submitted as evidence, then there shouldn’t need to be concern about overlap,” Lavell-Harvard said.