Following years of emotional pleas by advocates and the families of victims, work will officially begin next month on a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
The federal government formally launched the long-awaited study during a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec Wednesday morning.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett (pictured), Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu attended an event, which detailed the scope and structure of the probe.
It’s designed to be arm’s length from government. It will begin on September 1st, and is expected to last at least two years.
Federal officials also revealed the new estimated cost of the inquiry, which is now pegged at at least $53.8 million.
The government originally set aside $40 million in its budget for the study, but officials determined an additional $13.8 million will be needed.
Five commissioners have been assigned to the inquiry:
- Marion Buller, Chief Commissioner & B.C.’s first female First Nations judge
- Michele Audette: former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada
- Qajaq Robinson: An Ottawa-based, Nunavut-born lawyer who practices civil litigation with an emphasis on aboriginal law
- Marilyn Poitras: a professor at the University of Saskatchewan professor with a focus on indigenous law
- Brian Eyolfson: First Nations lawyer based in Ontario
According to the Inquiries Act, the commissioners will have the same powers as any court in a civil case to compel witnesses to give evidence.
Bennett said the commissioners could also examine all papers, documents, vouchers, records and books belonging a public office or institution.
Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday that by examining root causes, including past and present systemic and institutional barriers, the commission will play a key role in defining actions needed to protect the human rights of indigenous women and girls.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained what he hopes will come from the inquiry.
“We need to offer justice for the victims,” he said. “For too long in this country, indigenous women and girls have gone missing without much notice, without much reaction, without society in general realizing the tragedies that are among us.”
Trudeau acknowledged it’s long overdue.
“I expect that this national public inquiry will clearly set a path forward to end this ongoing national tragedy, to look at ways to prevent this from continuing, from happening again, ways all levels of government and institutions and communities right across the country can work to ensure that we learn from this terrible tragedy,” he said.
For months, the government had been in a pre-consultation process which involved meeting with survivors, families and other stakeholders to help set the size and structure of the inquiry.
According to an RCMP report released in the spring of 2014, over 1,100 indigenous women were murdered and went missing between 1980 and 2012.
It revealed a year later that 32 aboriginal women had been murdered and 11 more had disappeared since it first reported on the issue.