Frequently Asked Questions
How will families of lost loved ones and survivors of violence be treated by the National Inquiry?
The Commissioners and staff understand it has taken 40 years to get the National Inquiry. It is your strong efforts and advocacy that we want to honour as we carry out this historic task known as the Truth Gathering Process.
We want families and survivors to feel comfortable and safe enough to speak directly to us, without the need of having a lawyer present. We want the person to feel as though he/she is talking with us over tea in his/her own home. In order to create this comfort and safety, we have changed from the usual courtroom-like process. There will be no cross-examination of families and survivors and we are working hard at providing safe spaces so it doesn’t feel like you are inside a court room.
We want you to understand the ‘voluntary process’ has been designed keeping families first in mind. For far too long, Indigenous people have been forced to follow. This process allows you to choose to lead the National Inquiry toward a positive direction.
There are many individuals who want to tell their stories, and the National Inquiry wants to give every family and survivor of violence a chance to share their experience. All family members will be asked to self-identify and provide the National Inquiry with their feelings and recommendations in either verbal, written, recorded, or artistic forms.
What is the Truth Gathering Process?
This is an on-going process versus an event. The Truth Gathering Process includes a few ways to gather information: community hearings, statement gathering, artistic Expressions (poetry, song, and artwork), expert panels, institutional hearings, collection and review of documents and review of pre-existing finding and recommendations on matters within the National Inquiry’s mandate.
Families, survivors and loved ones will primarily participate through Community Hearings, Statement Gathering and Artistic Expressions. A critical priority of the National Inquiry is to offer choice to participants on how they want to tell their story and create a welcoming, safe environment which contributes to an empowering experience.
What can the National Inquiry do?
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will look at services that are meant to create healthy, protective and livable communities across Canada. We will look at how Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S as well as families with lost loved ones are affected by such programming.
The Commissioners and staff will look into the following issues in relation to Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S throughout Canada:
- Systemic forms and causes of violence – including sexual violence.
- Ongoing social, economic, cultural, institutional and historical violence.
- Institutional policies and practices that have been implemented because of the effectiveness of increasing safety.
There are several strategies the Commissioners will use to carry out this work, including:
- Hear testimony from families of lost loved ones and survivors of violence at Community Hearings across the country.
- Gather advice from Elders, families, Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations, experts, academics, officials and front line workers.
- Private testimony with one or more of the Commissioners.
- Establish issue-specific advisory bodies that bring relevant information to inquiry.
- Examine illegal or improper behaviour by police, social workers and others. Report such findings to authorities including appropriate Minister(s) within federal and/or provincial governments, or beyond, including international bodies of power.
- Have federal jurisdiction including jurisdiction in all provinces and territories.
What can’t the National Inquiry do?
Based on the terms of reference the Commissioners cannot investigate or re-investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S or cases of Survivors who have experienced violence.
The National Inquiry cannot provide monetary compensation or restitution to anyone.
Based on what the National Inquiry cannot do, why is the process so legalistic when the outcome is not legally binding?
“Legally binding” means what a court of law can enforce. What is not “legally binding” are the findings of fact and any recommendations.
That being said, the National Inquiry has the legal power to make witnesses attend a hearing before the commissioners. We also have the power to make people and/or organizations give us documents. For example, the National Inquiry can demand police files and force the attendance of individuals like Police Chiefs, to attend before the Commissioners to answer questions. Without these types of legal powers, the National Inquiry would not be able to conduct a proper examination. In the end this means that we have the legal tools to proceed with a robust, independent, neutral, and comprehensive review of stories which might otherwise not see the light of day.
Without the legal framework we would not be able to function at all nor would we even exist. Every province and territory has signed on to this National Inquiry so we are able to use these strong powers in every region of the country to ensure compliance by every governmental and non-governmental organization. It is important to note that there has never been a public inquiry in which all of our Canadian legal jurisdictions have worked together to give these legal powers to a public inquiry.
Will traditional protocols be valued during the Truth Gathering Process?
The National Inquiry is very committed to honouring the cultural protocols that are specific to each community we visit. That includes:
- Designing Community Hearings in a way that is respectful of traditional laws and values of the region.
- Allowing Indigenous ceremonies to take place parallel to the Community Hearings Process so those testifying feel supported in a safe and healthy environment
- Ensure Elders and/or health support is present for those testifying
What is the ‘trauma-informed process’ the National Inquiry refers to for families and survivors?
With respect to traditional laws, this process is an important one within the Truth Gathering Process. It is the right way and with clear and timely communication, our trauma-informed outreach will continue to expand.
The National Inquiry hears advice from many different perspectives. Some families and survivors are saying, get on with the hearings; others are saying take your time to get it right. It is important to be purposeful in all that we do, to stay positive and keep making progress.
We have had and continue to have health supports available at the majority of our meetings. Some National Inquiry staff and Commissioners have knowledge and experience in trauma-informed service delivery. In order to make sure there is consistency amongst all staff and Commissioners, Inquiry-wide training continues to take place. The National Inquiry will be guided by the principle, “Do No Harm” by:
- Ensure any questioning of witnesses is done in a respectful way, without any rape myths or negative stereotypical images
- Have appropriate interpreters available so those who are testifying can do so in their own Indigenous language.
- Counselors made available before, during, and after the hearings, with a possibility to have longer term counselling (done on a case by case basis at the request of families or survivors)
- Special protections in place for minors who wish to share their painful experiences
How long will the Commissioners be working and what can we expect?
The National Inquiry began operations on September 1, 2016 and has a deadline to complete its work by December 31, 2018. As stated by the Chief Commissioner in an open letter on May 19, 2017 there is a possibility the Commissioners will ask the federal government for an extension.
An interim report with preliminary findings is still expected to be completed by November 1, 2017. Currently, the Final Report is to be completed by November 1, 2018, however, this date could change, if an extension is granted. That report will have recommendations for concrete and effective action that can be taken to remove the systemic causes of violence and increase safety of Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S.
When will families be able to tell their stories?
The National Inquiry began hearing from families and survivors of violence during the first Community Hearings of the Truth Gathering Process in Whitehorse, Yukon during the week of May 29, 2017. Over 3 days, the National Inquiry heard from approximately 50 participants. The forms in which testimony was gathered included Community Hearings (made public and broadcast online), Private hearings (with one or two Commissioners and health supports), through private and public sharing circles, and by statement takers.
We have been advised by families and survivors from across the country the summer was not the best way of making the Community Hearings accessible and inclusive given the number of activities that are taking place in First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities during June, July and August.
The next couple of months allow us to plan and prepare other communities for future Community Hearings scheduled to start again in the fall. As dates become available we will post locations on the news section of our website.
If an individual cannot make one of the Community Hearings scheduled in their region, or if he/she does not feel safe in that environment, it is possible to attend an event in another location at a later date. There is also an opportunity for a Statement Taker to meet with the individual in a mutually-acceptable location that isn’t at a Community Hearing.
What kind of work will the National Inquiry be doing over the summer?
There is still much work to do and the Commissioners and staff are looking forward to making a process that is more accessible to you. The National Inquiry’s directors have already began meetings with their teams to review the Whitehorse community hearing process to validate what worked and identify any gaps or areas needing improvement. Over the next few weeks, the National Inquiry staff will confirm work plans that will include the finalization of a community visit plan to get ready for community hearings in September.
Leading up to Community hearings in the fall, an interdisciplinary team will participate in community visits across Canada in order to lay the ground work for the Truth Gathering Process. We will also continue our other work to fulfill our terms of reference, including research, planning and organizing expert panels and analyzing digital and non-digital data submitted to the National Inquiry by federal, provincial, territorial, municipal governments, non-governmental organizations and institutions. We will also be organizing the Expert Panel on Indigenous Law and Decolonization.
The National Inquiry started its process with regional advisory meetings and moved to a community visit approach. What is the difference?
From January to April 2017, regional advisory meetings were held to allow families and groups to provide advice to the National Inquiry on regional matters, including our legal process. Families and groups told us that the previously scheduled regional advisory meetings were similar to the pre-inquiry process carried out by the federal government last year and that further consultations were unnecessary. We agree as we have reviewed the many recommendations made during the pre-inquiry process, however, the meetings we held were also very helpful to us.
The community visits focus entirely on planning and preparation for the truth gathering process, including community hearings, statement gatherings and presentations of artistic expression. This approach will ensure everything is in place so that families and survivors of violence can share their stories in a safe, no-further-trauma environment that is respectful of all involved.
National Inquiry staff will attend these community visits to find a suitable venue, engage with elders regarding ceremony protocol, set up adequate health supports, and begin identification and preparation of families, survivors and local community organizations for sharing with the National Inquiry their experiences and recommendations for positive change. We will, in turn, share our information regarding the truth gathering process with families, survivors and local community organizations.
How will families and survivors get to talk about their lost loved one and experiences?
The National Inquiry hopes to gather a wide range of stories and recommendations in order to identify trends in violence against Indigenous women and girls, members of the LGBTQ2S communities and sex trade workers. Families and survivors will have the opportunity to share their stories and recommendations with Statement Takers or Commissioners. Also, families and survivors can share objects or documents, or may express their stories through artistic expression.
What does systemic mean?
The National Inquiry is mandated to review systemic causes of all forms of violence – including sexual violence – against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S in Canada. This means that the Commissioners will examine root causes of violence with a view to detecting common trends across the country which contribute to the disproportionate volume of violence.
Under a systemic review, cases cannot be investigated individually but will be examined overall to reveal those common threads and factors which cause this national tragedy. This collective information will then be used to inform recommendations to be made by the Commissioners aimed at promoting a healthier, safer environment for all Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S.
Is this National Inquiry another Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) or Residential School Independent Assessment Process (IAP)?
In short, the National Inquiry is neither. The Commissioners will not replicate those fact-finding processes. The National Inquiry has legal powers and responsibilities, and a purpose, different from the TRC or IAP.
For example, the TRC and IAP had fact finding processes which had to meet a level of “proof” which would warrant the award of compensation. The National Inquiry does not have the power to award any compensation.Its purpose is simply to find the truth underlying why Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S are so victimized by violence, and are so often the subject of “unsolved crimes.”
The Commissioners have a mandate to educate the public, to facilitate healing of traumatized communities, to restore public confidence in institutions that have been seriously damaged in the eyes of Canadians, and to make recommendations for action and policy reform aimed at effecting real changes to make Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S feel safe, sacred, honoured and empowered.