The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls was always going to be challenged to find a way to actually make a positive impact.
First, it’s tackling an issue almost too large to definitively discuss and definitely too large to be able to solve with just a report.
Second, it’s been mired in politics since before it began, with the Liberal government promising it on the campaign trail in 2015, counter to the previous Conservative government, who argued the subject was extensively studied and action on violent crimes, instead, was needed.
Justification for the inquiry was largely based on the RCMP’s 2014 report that found 1,181 missing or murdered Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012.
That total indicated that Indigenous women were over-represented among Canada’s missing and murdered women, but the bullet point sometimes skipped over is that close to 90 per cent of all female homicides are solved and there is little difference in solve rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous victims.
An inquiry is usually called to solve a questionable case but in this situation, there’s nothing specifically to solve. It’s more of a public awareness campaign that can hopefully affect future legislation.
The group’s mandate is to “examine and report on the systemic causes of all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada by looking at patterns and underlying factors.”
Caught between competing narratives from the popcorn gallery are the people affected by the tragedies many Indigenous women have faced, such as Inuvik’s Lesa Semmler, whose mother was murdered.
Whether or not the inquiry, which has been plagued by staffing and communication problems since its inception, can truly find any solutions after its final report remains to be seen.
But more important is that the subject of violence awareness and reduction is at the forefront of most media, schools and organizations across the country. No matter how the inquiry goes, it has succeeded already in directing the national dialogue in a positive direction.
The inquiry can perhaps also open the door to discussions on other issues disproportionately affecting Indigenous people, such as the suicide rate of Indigenous men, which is vastly higher than other demographic groups.
The worst result for the inquiry would be a botched operation that colours any discussion about the undoubtedly important subject it’s studying. That would be a disservice to the people who have had to dig through their worst memories to contribute to the report.
As Semmler said, it can take many generations for real change to occur. Children today are growing up in an environment where violent behaviour is extremely discouraged and extensively discussed, which can only bode well for the communities they will make up in the future.