Families of murdered and missing Indigenous women press inquiry to examine policing
“Justice comes in many forms. Police accountability is number one,” said Maggie Cywink, sister of Sonya Cywink, who was slain in 1994.
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Families of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls are pushing the thorny issue of policing to the forefront of the national inquiry.
The inquiry issued a statement on Thursday saying they “can and will consider the conduct of policing services and policies across Canada in 14 federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions.”
The move came after an emotional Wednesday evening at the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Regina, where many families took to the microphone to speak directly with inquiry commissioners Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson, demanding they make police issues more of a priority in the probe. And on Thursday, the last day of the AFN meeting, debate centred on whether the chiefs should call on the current inquiry commissioners to resign — a resolution that failed.
On the issue of policing, the AFN heard from grieving families, including Delores Stevenson, the aunt of Nadine Machiskinic, who died in 2015 after falling down a laundry chute at the same hotel where the assembly was meeting.
Stevenson said “we want justice for Nadine and we still don’t have answers.” At an inquest into Machiskinic’s death earlier this year a coroner’s jury “reversed the police conclusions that this was an accident” and changed her cause of death to “undetermined.”
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde threw his support behind the families, calling on the inquiry to make sure the terms of reference are broad enough to include policing.
“As national chief, I would encourage the commissioners to use their powers and push the envelope . . . to ensure that all police services are reviewed, that they (be) questioned, and hopefully some recommendations brought forward to fix what obviously is not working,” Bellegarde said.
However, the inquiry noted in its statement that it has different powers in different regions. In British Columbia, the commissioners cannot make findings of misconduct, but in Ontario the commissioners can.
“In all jurisdictions the national inquiry can refer information on specific cases back to authorities for reinvestigation. Currently, there is a forensic team reviewing police files,” the statement said.
Maggie Cywink, Ontario’s special adviser on the inquiry and sister of Sonya Cywink, who was found slain near London in 1994, said many families are still searching for answers as to what happened to their loved ones and how the police investigations were handled.
“Justice comes in many forms. Police accountability is number one,” said Cywink, who did not attend the AFN meeting. Sonya’s murder is still unsolved.
Cywink noted it has been almost 12 months since the inquiry under Chief Commissioner Marion Buller was first announced. She called the inquiry’s statement on policing “a last-ditch effort on the part of the inquiry to push this forward. After 12 months they are figuring this needs to be a priority? That is disturbing.”
On Thursday, motions were put forward to revamp and bolster the inquiry, including the Manitoba chiefs calling on the commissioners to resign and be replaced.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron implored the chiefs not to lose another two years by removing the commissioners for mistakes made.
“Things are flawed but we can fix it,” said Cameron. The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.
But Arlen Dumas, the newly elected Grand Chief of the Manitoba Chiefs, refused to back down on the resolution to replace the commissioners.
“If I wasn’t able to provide tangible results, I wouldn’t be here today. I cannot back down on my position demanding a reset and the commissioners must be replaced.
With files from The Canadian Press