On August 3, 2016, the government of Canada announced the terms of reference and commissioners who will lead the country’s independent inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The inquiry, which will officially begin on September 1, 2016 and end on December 31, 2018, will uncover the causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and will subsequently provide concrete solutions to the problem.
Here’s a little bit about each commissioner spearheading the inquiry:
Marion Buller will be leading the inquiry as its Chief Commissioner. Buller became British Columbia’s first female Indigenous judge in 1994, after working in civil and criminal law in that province. She is a member of Saskatchewan’s Mistawasis First Nation and over the course of her legal career served as both a director and the president of Canada’s Indigenous Bar Association. Buller was also a member of the B.C. Police Commission and the Law Court Education Society and was the Commission Counsel for the Caribou-Chilcotin Justice inquiry. She was instrumental in starting the First Nations Court of British Columbia in 2006.
In a Canadian Lawyer Magazine article, Buller noted that it’s important to have First Nations judges on the court bench to “reflect our culture and what our society is.”
Michèle Audette served as the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada from 2012 to 2015, and is the former president of Quebec Native Women’s Association. Audette, who is half Innu and was forced to leave her home community as a child because of the Indian Act, was the associate deputy minister of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs for the Government of Quebec and is a director on the board of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a charity dedicated to research in the humanities and social sciences. She also played an important role in having the government repeal a section of the Indian Act that removed status from descendants of Indigenous women who had married non-Indigenous men. Audette ran for the Liberal Party in the 2015 federal election in the riding of Terrebonne, Quebec.
Qajaq Robinson is from Igloolik, Nunavut and now lives in Ottawa. She studied at the Akitsiraq Law School, a joint program between the University of Victoria and Nunavut Arctic College, and worked as a Crown prosecutor in Nunavut for four years. Robinson was a senior policy advisor to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and is the vice president of Tungasuvvingat Inuit, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing cultural and wellness programs to Inuit in Ottawa. She speaks fluent Inuktitut and English.
Marilyn Poitras is a Métis woman from Saskatchewan. She is a Harvard Law School graduate and is currently a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, specializing in constitutional and Indigenous law. Poitras sits of the board of the Canadian Journal of Poverty Law and is the former vice president of Indigenous governance at the University of New Brunswick’s Institute on Governance.
Brian Eyolfson, from the Couchiching First Nation in Ontario, is the acting deputy director in the Legal Services Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, as well as the deputy director of the Seconded Legal Services Branch (Attorney General) and the vice chair of Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario. Eyolfson served as vice chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and represented Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto at the Ipperwash Inquiry.
The RCMP estimates there have been approximately 1,200 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada between 1980 and 2012. This number may be even higher due to cases where women were not identified as Indigenous during the investigation, or where their disappearances were not reported to police. NWAC also has a database of missing and murdered Indigenous women, some of which overlaps with the RCMP’s data.
Indigenous women make up only three per cent of Canada’s population, but account for 16 per cent of all female homicides.
The inquiry’s temporary website can be found here, and will soon move to an independent website with appropriate contact information for the inquiry and commissioners.