Jun 01 2016
WINNIPEG - Canada's top First Nations leader says police should brace themselves for some blame in an upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says fingers will be pointed during the inquiry, which is expected to last two years.
"You guys didn't do an adequate job. You didn't put enough human and financial resources into the research and the investigation surrounding all these cases involving First Nations women,'' Bellegarde said Wednesday in a speech at a two-day CACP conference in Winnipeg.
"That's what's going to happen. You know that. I know that. So what is your answer?''
Police forces should start compiling statistics and thoughts now, he suggested. They should figure out how to showcase what they're doing well, but be equally prepared to examine their shortcomings.
Many people still stereotype indigenous people as "stupid, lazy, drunk, (and on) welfare,'' he said.
"Be big enough to show that more work needs to be done to improve the system.''
The federal government is expected to set a mandate this summer for the long-awaited inquiry into about 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women.
A report released Wednesday summarizing public consultations suggested law enforcement should address "delays in responding to reports of missing indigenous women and girls.''
The government report also says police should address "systemic racism'' and look at how officers treat indigenous women, girls and their families.
Some of the criticism likely to come out of the inquiry is justified, said Saskatoon Police Chief and CACP President Clive Weighill.
"There has been a lot of controversy right across Canada for decades now about police involvement with missing and murdered indigenous women,'' Weighill said. "I think the inquiry will hopefully lay some of that to rest or hold some people accountable.''
But he also said police have changed the way they handle such cases. They don't wait 24 hours to start investigating a missing person, work more closely with families and have put in safeguards to ensure cases don't fall through the cracks.
A monument to missing and murdered indigenous women is being built in front of the police headquarters in Saskatoon, Weighill pointed out.
"The world has changed in the last decade.''
Weighill says looking at the way plane crashes are investigated could help officials understand the reasons behind the missing and murdered Indigenous women.
"I would suggest to you if it was plane crashes the government would be going right back and saying, 'What's causing those planes to crash? Are we training people properly? Are we giving them proper funding for the aircraft? Are they getting built properly?' Because they know if you don't fix the planes they're going to keep crashing."
He said the tragedies will continue unless the federal government focuses on what puts Indigenous women at risk in the first place.
"We're hoping that inquiry will start to focus on what are the root causes that are delivering young women to be in vulnerable situations - the poverty, the poor housing, the disadvantage, being left behind - because if you can't fix those root causes, we're going to continue to have missing women. Just like if you don't fix what's going wrong with the planes, they're going to keep crashing," he said.
"We have to work closer with the Indigenous community itself. We have to work with people that have lived experience, that can understand the issues, help guide us through some of the problems that unfortunately Aboriginal people face," he said.
Weighill said one way of helping at-risk Indigenous youth is by putting more resources into the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
"It's a good act. It allows the police to divert youth away from the criminal justice system. The unfortunate part is there is no infrastructure around that act. No place really for us to divert the youth. We need addiction centres, we need programming for the youth," Weighill said.