OTTAWA — While the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is set to report on how to prevent tragedies, advocates say it never had the chance to find justice for past crimes.
Sheila North, former grand chief for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, noted the federal Liberal party’s 2015 election platform promised the inquiry would seek recommendations “to solve these crimes and prevent future ones.”
She said the inquiry’s terms of reference don’t adequately focus on resolving unsolved cases. North feels Indigenous communities won’t have much trust in police until they see momentum on those cold cases.
In 2009, Manitoba RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service launched Project Devote, a task force probing missing and murdered vulnerable people, most of whom are Indigenous and female.
A decade later, only one case has been solved — a man pleaded guilty in 2015 to Myrna Letandre’s 2006 death. Some 30 others are actively under review by 16 officers and five support staff, though some involve suspects who have died.
North believes police could be probing and solving more cases if they had more money, and if more First Nations police forces were involved.
“One of the biggest things I’ve seen so far is that there’s a huge, huge trust gap in the police agencies,” she said. “There are pieces of information that are going unreported because of that lack of trust, and it’s contributing to not being able to solve a lot of the cases.”
The interim report, released November 2017, called for a new, national police task force to address cases families are begging to have reviewed. Ottawa has instead boosted funding for the RCMP’s investigative standards unit.
WPS Chief Danny Smyth is travelling to Monday’s ceremony, just outside Ottawa.
Last December, the force’s lawyer urged the commissioners not to paint all police as racist, noting changes such as better training, more Indigenous recruitment and restorative justice programs.
Meanwhile, the inquiry’s head commissioner has hinted it might ask for harsher sentences for those convicted of murdering Indigenous females. The idea has had some traction in the Senate.
North said she worries that would be unfair: “I think that’s shooting in the dark. We have to be more responsible than that; we don’t want justice just for one group of people.”
But others, such as Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, the MMIWG liaison for MKO, support the idea.
She said it would undercut a perception that perpetrators and serial killers get off easy. “As an Indigenous woman, there’s a perception in society that it’s OK to kill us or abduct us because the justice system is failing to protect (us).”
— Dylan Robertson