Advocates say MMIW inquiry must support family participation

A coalition of Manitoba families says they're still in the dark about how many communities the inquiry commission will visit

WINNIPEG – Families of missing and murdered women are still in the dark about how they can participate in the upcoming national inquiry, a coalition of Manitoba family members said Tuesday.

The long-promised inquiry is scheduled to start formal hearings in May. But coalition co-chair Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said relatives of the missing and murdered are still unsure about travel costs, as well as emotional support and other victims services.

She said the inquiry’s final report is due in December 2018 but that deadline may have to be pushed back.

“We’re more about doing it properly than a timeline. That’s what the families want, they want it done properly, and to be inclusive of everyone who wants to tell their story to the commission.

“I don’t think there should be a timeline.”

Among the unanswered questions, the coalition said, is how many communities the inquiry commission will visit. For people in other communities, will there be subsidies for travel costs, therapy or emotional supports for people who face the trauma of retelling their stories, as well as access to traditional First Nation ceremonies?

Anderson-Pyrz is familiar with tragedy. Her sister, Dawn Anderson, was found dead in Leaf Rapids, Man., in November 2012. The death was ruled accidental and caused by exposure to the cold while intoxicated, she said.

Anderson-Pyrz fought back tears as she explained why her family does not believe the death was accidental.

“She had bruising on her and her phone had been ripped off the wall in her home, and her TV had been smashed and her front door had been kicked in,” she said.

“To me, that automatically says that something went wrong.”

A spokesperson for the inquiry commission said it is working on keeping families better informed, and support services will be available.

“The inquiry aims to supply holistic supports via its health team but also intends to collaborate with existing local supports to ensure ongoing help to those who need it during and after the hearings,” Sue Montgomery, interim communications director, wrote in an email.

“There will be culturally appropriate ceremonies. We are working on improving communications and outreach.”

The inquiry’s first newsletter will be sent Wednesday and it’s working on audio for use on community radio, she added.

The inquiry has a mandate to examine the systemic causes of violence against indigenous women and girls, and why the rate of reported violence against indigenous women is more than triple that involving non-aboriginal women.

Interim findings are due in November.