September 30, 2020

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'We stand with the families'

MLAs react to findings of MMIWG report

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/6/2019 (485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Volume 1 of the 1,200-page report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls mentions Manitoba at least 127 times. In one of the heartbreaking references, a Métis witness identified as Cindy H. sums up the motivation for the inquiry with a story about her Winnipeg sisters, Julia and Jennifer, who became targets.

"Julia H. was just shy of 21 when she was found naked and unresponsive on Maryland Street... Someone had mixed diabetic pills into her drink the night before, and she was brain dead by the time her sister Cindy and her mother arrived at the hospital the following day," the report said.

"Twelve years later, Cindy’s other sister Julia was also found on Maryland Street in the middle of winter. She was outside her abusive partner’s apartment, frozen to death. She had been dragged outside in the night, and her body was covered in bruises. Despite this, in both situations, police said there wasn’t much they could do. No one was charged in either case."

The full report, which has more than 230 recommendations, is the result of a national inquiry that had a $92-million budget. On Sunday, Manitoba politicians had different reactions to the report that is to be released today but was leaked Friday.

"We have not had time to digest it but, what I can say, is we stand with the families," Manitoba Minister for the Status of Women Rochelle Squires said near the steps of the legislature after the annual Pride rally.

"We honour the families that contributed to the making of this report and we just honour all the people who came forward to share their testimony and provide input so we can move forward in a better way."

When asked what moving forward in a better way might look like, Squires (Progressive Conservative-Riel) didn’t provide any details.

Manitoba’s justice critic, an Indigenous woman who’s long pushed for governments to keep people safer, said restitution for the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls — especially their children — should be considered.

The goal would be to ensure they are "given the opportunities and the safety that they deserve," said Nahanni Fontaine (NDP-St. Johns).

"We need to put tangible, concrete measures in place to ensure that these children are safe," said Fontaine. She wants to see a national monument erected in honour of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, so "families from coast to coast to coast feel that their participation in the national inquiry was not for naught, and that their loved ones’ lives are honoured and recognized forever and that this becomes part of our historical record," said Fontaine.

Action is long overdue, said the co-founder of Manitoba Coalition of Families of Missing and Murdered Women and NDP MLA Bernadette Smith.

"We’ve been calling for a national action plan for Manitoba since 2010," said Smith, noting a petition with close to 50,000 signatures was presented to the federal government under former prime minister Stephen Harper. "His response was ‘It’s not high on my radar’," she said.

"All three levels of government need to develop action plans to keep Indigenous women safe in the community," said Smith.

"I think the challenge we’re all going to have as Canadians now is to look for further action to take afterwards," Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said Sunday. At the Pride rally, he said he hadn’t yet read the report but plans to. "I’m going to be reading it in detail because I’ll want to know what steps all levels of government - including municipal governments - will need to do better to make sure we better address what we’re hearing described as a genocide," Bowman said.

Smith, who represents Point Douglas in Winnipeg, said she’s glad that the report acknowledged "the genocide that we’ve known has been going on in this country for years."

"It shouldn’t have taken them $92 million to figure that out," Smith said of the commission of inquiry.

"We could have had that $92 million invested in actions that would’ve probably kept some people safe... some of the women and girls who’ve tragically died or gone missing since this inquiry was called would possibly be here," she said. "We’ve done nothing as a government since this national inquiry was called but collect stories from families. While that’s important, at the same time we’re not providing the supports families need."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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