Rinelle Harper was only 16 years old when she was sexually assaulted, brutally beaten and left lying on the edge of an icy river in Winnipeg: she almost died, but survived to tell her story.
The tragedy of this teenager who spoke out, despite the stigma and prejudices, shocked the Canadian media who followed the case very closely.
Her parents did not want her to become one of the millions of aboriginal women and children who have been sexually abused, but they supported her in her claim.
But the majority of the victims weren’t as lucky as Rinelle, their names only extending the long lists which are forgotten or registered as a number in the statistics. The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, wanted to change the situation and in August 2016 he created a committee in charge of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Given the large number of cases, the Government decided to carry out an investigation to examine the root cause of the phenomenon and to eradicate it.
But the working methods of this panel have sparked controversy and many people are dissatisfied with the results so far.
In just a year, the committee has already spent around 40 million of the 53 million dollar budget and has achieved very little, an opinion in which Aboriginal leaders and local media coincide, according to Radio Canada International.
Some suggest that the entire process should be reinitiated due to the lack of planning and organization that now exists.
Several activists from communities originating in Canada advocate for a new leader for the commission in charge of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, after the continuous resignations and dismissals in the team.
The head of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak organisation, Sheila North Wilson, alerted the media about the ‘state of crisis’ in which the investigation is found.
On behalf of other aboriginal leaders, she considers that the commissioner in charge of the investigation, Marion Buller, must resign because she has not been able to assume the position well.
In early October, the lead lawyer of the committee, Susan Vella left office and research director Aimeé Craft was also scheduled to cease her duties at the end of October in order to return to work at the University of Ottawa.
Buller assumed the position of commissioner of the committee in mid-July, following the resignation of Marilyn Poitras, who considered the panel proceedings insufficient. In an open letter, Poitras reiterated her support for the principles of the investigation, and said she could not continue her work in the way the process currently takes place.
After struggling for decades to draw attention to an epidemic of violence against women and the aboriginal communities, these cases are treated as a topic of study by the team supposedly in charge of investigating the root causes of the phenomenon, he said.
He also warned about the lack of concrete results that allow us to draw up a strategy to combat the scourge of violence.
The resignation of Poitras occurred shortly after the resignation of four members of the panel, as well as its executive director, Michele Moreau, who argued personal problems.
The committee faces strong criticisms from the relatives of the victims, who feel frustrated by the slow process of consultations and exchange of opinions.
Although they had to present the first results this November, they are now asking for an extension and more money to continue the investigations.
To date, there have been very small audiences: in Whitehorse, Yukon (at the end of May) and in Winnipeg Manitoba (this month).
According to a report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the commission is failing to communicate with families and provides limited professional help to those who have to tell their painful stories.
For the social activist Leah Gazan, coordinator of Indigenous Studies at the University of Winnipeg, there is very little advice that you can give when it comes to looking after those who are going to testify.
According to Aboriginal leader Bill Wilson, the investigation now seems like a ‘bloody farce’. But while both try to improve the direction of the investigation, the number of unsolved murders of Aboriginal women and other cases where they are reported as missing, continues to rise. Not all of them are as lucky as Rinelle Harper’s. (PL)
(Translated by Shanika Whight) – Photos: Pixabay