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Call to Action # 41: Justice (25-42)

Mother. Sister. Daughter.

June 5, 2023

CBC’s MMIWG project finds that after 4 years, only 2 of the national inquiry’s calls for justice are complete. More than half aren’t even started.

A graphic showing the backs of three women standing next to a tree in front of pink clouds, butterflies and a moon.
CBC’s ‘Mother. Sister. Daughter.’ tracked the progress in implementing all 231 calls for justice from the final June 2019 report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.Jolene Arcand/CBC

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

CBC News: Carissa Chaput was just 14 and in foster care when she was recruited from the streets of Winnipeg and trafficked by others to support their drug habit.  She was 15 when police finally rescued her. Child welfare workers, she said, had given up on her.

“They didn’t tell me why it took so long to find me. I was apparently too hard to handle so they just kind of gave up,” said Chaput. “I was a very troubled little girl. But I had a heart and I’m a human being. I didn’t deserve any of that.”

Carissa Chaput, and thousands of other Indigenous women and girls like her, are the very reason that four years ago, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls gave Canadians 231 calls for justice — legally mandated directives to stop the violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

Fast forward to 2023 — just two of those directives have been completed, a CBC analysis has determined. More than half have not been started. And the results continue to be devastating.

“I don’t see that they’re protecting us at all,” said Chaput. “If they were protecting us, a lot of us wouldn’t have been missing. A lot of us wouldn’t be dead.”

Justice for all children in care
Carissa Chaput shares her story about surviving a child welfare system that failed to protect her.

Click on the following link to view the video:

CBC’s “Mother. Sister. Daughter: An MMIWG Project” tracked the progress in implementing all 231 calls for justice from the final June 2019 report of the national MMIWG inquiry. The report itself was a culmination of three years of federally ordered hearings and testimony from survivors, and loved ones of those who didn’t survive. 

The calls born out of it are an instruction manual of sorts for governments, institutions and Canadians to eliminate the racially charged factors that fuel the nationwide crisis. They are, according to the report, not just suggestions, but requirements. “It must be understood that these recommendations, which we frame as ‘calls for justice,’ are legal imperatives — they are not optional,” the report reads.

If they were protecting us, a lot of us wouldn’t have been missing. A lot of us wouldn’t be dead.- Carissa Chaput

Four years in, CBC rated the progress in implementing the calls with a simple measurement:

  • Calls deemed “not started” are those in which promises may have been made or money may have been committed, but no change has been effected and no money has been spent.
  • Calls deemed “in progress” are those in which some level of government has concretely funded and/or made legislative or programming changes.
  • Calls deemed “complete” are completely implemented.RELATED LINKS

With these parameters, of the 231 calls for justice, more than half (123) have not been started and 106 are in progress.

Just two have been completed (calls 5.20 and 5.23 — which called on the federal government to make Indigenous-specific changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, and to create a deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections role).

‘Genocide is not a project’

On paper, there’s been a lot of action. CBC identified at least 45 federal, provincial and territorial government committees struck after the inquiry to review the research, rethink the recommendations and refine the implementation plans.

In reality, many are just covering the same ground, says Sen. Michèle Audette, who was one of the commissioners for the MMIWG inquiry. “We showed you by the voices of the families and survivors [that] these are the priorities for those who participate. You don’t have to recreate something,” Audette said.

These recommendations, which we frame as ‘calls for justice,’ are legal imperatives — they are not optional.- Final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Lynne Groulx, chief executive officer of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, is more blunt. “This is a human genocide, and genocide is not a project. We are not a project that bureaucrats can solve.”

The federal government has also committed funding — more than $2 billion worth of promises in its 2021 budget alone. In reality, much of this promised funding has not been spent.

Watch Drum song for Emily
April Ballantyne wrote this song for her mother, Emily Norma Ballantyne, who went missing in 1991 from Lynn Lake, Man. ‘It was a song composed for her but I decided to dedicate it to all the MMIWG because I know their families feel this song just as much as I do,’ Ballantyne says.

Click on the following link to view the video:

The federal government, for example, committed $724 million for a violence prevention strategy dedicated, in part, to constructing new safe shelters. So far, only a fraction of that has actually been dispersed for shelter projects. In May 2023, the federal government reiterated its commitment to this effort, announcing $103 million to build and support shelter spaces and transitional houses. 

But that came just weeks after CBC reported that as of September 2023, existing women’s shelters across Canada will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in pandemic funding. “I think they’re just trying to put the crisis on another place … hoping that we forget the cut that they made,” said Audette.

We are not a project that bureaucrats can solve.- Lynne Groulx, chief executive officer of the Native Women’s Association of Canada

Other money committed is too little or too late.

For example, the federal government’s 2023 budget committed $4 billion over seven years for an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy. That’s about $40 billion short of what a 2022 report from the Assembly of First Nations estimated was needed to address current housing needs.

Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller says others might dispute the CBC’s progress report. “I could probably find other people that say 60 to 70 per cent” of the calls are in progress, he told CBC in May. “There’s been a lot of work put in by our government into making sure people are safer in this country.”

Watch Throat song for Jessica
Throat singers Nikki Komaksiutiksak and her daughter Chasity Swan celebrate their Inuit culture and honour Nikki’s cousin, Jessica Michaels, also a renowned throat singer, who died in 2001.

Click on the following link to watch the above video:

Miller did, however, note that there’s still a lot of work to be done. “I don’t think anyone should be claiming any sort of victory … until people are safe in this country,” he said. “We need to keep focused on families of loved ones and on making sure that they are properly supported, hopefully in finding their loved ones — and when they are lost that they get the answers that are due to them.”

‘We all want to heal’

Destiny Paupanakis is one of those family members. She knows first-hand that there’s been little success supporting families affected by violence (Call for Justice 5.6).  Her mother, Martha Michelle, was murdered in northern Manitoba. Her sister Angel Blue Sky was found hanged in a closet in Saskatchewan. 

Paupanakis is now struggling to juggle the trauma of her losses, while building a better life for her children.

Watch Justice and self-government
Destiny Paupanakis shares her family story of racism-fuelled trauma and what justice looks like for Indigenous people.

Click on the following link to watch the above video:

“We all want to heal. We all want to get help,” she said.

Carissa Chaput could have used the protections laid out in Call for Justice 12.14 — designed to protect Indigenous girls and other youth in care. And Caley Jae Fawcett is well aware that most police departments still don’t have specialized units to investigate deaths of Indigenous women (Call for Justice 9.4).

She’s still reeling from the loss of her best friend, Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin, whose body was discovered on a trail outside Woodridge, Man., in August 2022. “We suffer and we sit here without her day to day,” Fawcett said. “It hurts so much, I can’t even breathe.”

Two women smile ytogether
Destiny Paupanakis’s mother, Martha Michelle, right, with a family friend. (Submitted by Destiny Paupanakis)

Paupanakis, Chaput and Fawcett are just three of more than 20 mothers, sisters, daughters and survivors who lent their voice to this CBC project. Supported by an elder and trauma-informed counsellors, they sat down with their stories to stand up for change.

‘She was always the key’

This is what Caley Jae Fawcett wants the world to know about her sister in spirit, Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin. The Anishinaabe woman from Sagkeeng First Nation was related to Indigenous icons — one of her uncles was decorated war veteran Sgt. Tommy Prince. Another uncle was a Pan Am Games torchbearer.

She wanted to be a social worker. She loved to laugh. And she never — never — left anyone out in the cold. “If somebody didn’t get an invitation to something, she’s calling that somebody and she’s making sure they’re there,” Fawcett said. “She was always the key. She was the key to the friendships.”

A young woman smiles slightly. She wears a red shirt with a photo of another young girl with angel wings on her.
Caley Jae Fawcett wears a shirt with a picture on it of her friend Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin, who died in 2022. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

She is now, however, one of the MMIWGs in Canada — at least, one of the ones we know about.

When word got out late one night in August 2022 that Gerard-Roussin was missing, Fawcett, family and friends dropped everything to search for her. They handed out hundreds of posters and searched through fields, only to learn her body had already been found and identified. Gerard-Roussin’s was no longer a missing persons case. It was a homicide investigation.

A young girl in a T-shirt and throws an arm up in the air as she smiles.
Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin died in 2022 after being reported missing. (Rossbrook House)
A young girl smiles.
Her family and friends dropped everything to search for her, handing out hundreds of posters and searching through fields, only to learn her body had already been found and identified. (Rossbrook House)

It’s an example of why Call for Justice 9.9 was created — it demands, among other things, better communication between authorities and families, and a universal system to track and investigate when Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered.

As of June 2023, it has not been completed.

Fawcett is demoralized. “The justice system looks at Indigenous women as trash,” she said. “I want Mackaylah’s story to bring awareness to all of our sisters.”

Searching for justice

Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation is a community in pain.  Families in the southern Manitoba community are still haunted by the 2011 death of one of their own, 32-year-old mother Roberta McIvor. They are also still divided in anger — because those responsible for causing her death are also from their community. “Roberta’s case is very complex in nature,” said her cousin Alaya McIvor. “There’s not a day that we don’t seek forms of justice for Roberta.”

A woman wears glasses, fur earrings and a beaded necklace in front of an orange background.
Alaya McIvor says her community of Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation is still haunted by the 2011 death of her cousin. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Here’s what’s known about McIvor’s death. It was July 30, 2011. McIvor, a hard-working parent in the small community along the western shores of Lake Manitoba, wanted a night off. But she also wanted to be responsible about it — so she arranged for a designated driver to get her home safely.

Sometime in the night though, her driver bailed out and left her asleep in the car. Early in the morning, she was found dead — her head on one side of the road, her body on the other. Her arms were folded together, crossed, underneath her. A police investigation deemed her decapitation the result of a carjacking gone hideously wrong — she was caught in a seatbelt and dragged from the car after two teenagers stole it and took it for a joyride.

Loved ones of both McIvor and the perpetrators still live in the community. The rage, mixed with grief, is toxic, says Alaya McIvor.

Colonial justice will never give family members justice.- Alaya McIvor

The solution is restorative justice, she believes. “I would like to sit down with those responsible for taking Roberta’s life and just ask questions … coming together in a room like this, where there’s no violence perpetrated, and really understanding the root cause of this,” said McIvor.

It’s a judicial process that’s rooted in deep cultural tradition with an emphasis on healing all parties concerned.

A woman sits on a couch and smiles in an old photo.
Roberta McIvor, 32, died in 2011. She was a hard-working mother from Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation in southern Manitoba. (Submitted by Alaya McIvor)
A woman wearing hoop earrings smiles.
A police investigation deemed she was decapitated as the result of a carjacking gone hideously wrong — she was caught in a seatbelt and dragged from the car after two teenagers stole it and took it for a joyride. (Submitted by Alaya McIvor)

It also reflects the intent of several of the MMIWG inquiry’s calls for justice.

There’s the call for an Indigenous justice system (5.1), the call for restorative justice (5.11) and the call for supports for families impacted by the crime (5.6).

As of June 2023, none of these calls has been fully implemented. McIvor will continue to advocate for them. “It would really help our Indigenous communities … focusing back on our lineage, our laws, our sacredness,” she said. “Colonial justice will never give family members justice.”

Searching for security

Gayle Gruben surprises herself when she chokes up as she describes her mother, whose whereabouts are unknown. “Sorry,” she says, taking a long pause to compose herself before she starts again. “I was three years old at the time. I don’t even remember her.”

Her mother was Sarah Ovayuak. She went missing from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., in 1967. “All I was told is that she fell off a boat and she was never found,” Gruben said.

Little else is known about the death of her then 24-year-old mother. Little else was written at the time. There was no missing persons news release. No media coverage. It took close to 50 years before her name was added to any kind of national awareness campaign.

A woman wears a floral shirt in front of an orange background.
Little is known about the death of Gayle Gruben’s mother. Today, Gruben says she wants to remedy that. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Today, Gruben wants to remedy that — she wants to make sure Canadians don’t ignore, or forget about, all of the others in northern communities who have gone missing or been murdered. That’s why, with colleagues at the Manitoba Inuit Association, she created the Red Amautiit campaign, redesigning the traditional Inuit women’s parka as a symbol of remembrance of the Inuit women, girls and 2SLGBTQ people who have been lost to violence.

Their efforts are what Call for Justice 11.1 aims to achieve — better education about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and the legacy wrapped around them. 

Sarah Ovayuak was a residential school survivor. After she disappeared, young Gayle was sent to residential school too.  There are also 46 calls for justice designed to effect change in Inuit communities, struggling to recover from these not-so-historical harms. More than half of those calls — 25 — have not been started. The rest are in varying degrees of progress. None have been completed.

An old black-and-white photo of a young woman wearing a jacket.
Little is known about the death of Sarah Ovayuak, who went missing in 1967. (Submitted by Gayle Gruben)
An old black-and-white photo of a young woman with her eyes closed.
It took close to 50 years before her name was added to any kind of national awareness campaign. (Submitted by Gayle Gruben)

Not every Inuit community has a police service (Call for Justice 16.36). Most Inuit communities don’t have a safe house or shelter for women fleeing intimate partner violence (16.19). Poverty is rampant (16.1 and 16.20). And no Inuit community has enough affordable housing (16.18).

Inuit women and girls bear the brunt of these failures.

A federally funded 2020 study found that women in Nunavut are the victims of violent crime at a rate more than 13 times higher than that for women in Canada as a whole, and that women in the territory have a risk of being sexually assaulted that is 12 times greater than the provincial/territorial average.

All of this means a grim Plan B for those in crisis — they’re forced to leave home, family and culture in search of security in a larger urban centre. “Sometimes it’s more traumatic for them to leave their home to get the supports that they need, to get the healing that they need,” Gruben said. “So a lot of affected people just don’t go.”

The fight

Rachel Willan is a Métis mother of seven. A grandmother of two. And a survivor of sexual exploitation. “I like to say I am a survivor, but I am also a little bit more, because I’m approaching 50 and never thought I’d live to be this old,” she says bluntly. “Growing up in [foster] care, I just dreamt pretty much for the day, for the week.”

Willan, who grew up in Duck Bay, Man., now tries to prevent history from repeating itself. She opens her door to kids in crisis who need protection from predators. “I hope that nobody would take my kids. Those are the simple things in life that are pretty basic human rights,” she said.

A woman stands tall in front of an orange background.
Rachel Willan is a Métis mother of seven, a grandmother of two and a survivor of sexual exploitation. Today, she opens her door to kids in crisis who need protection from predators. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

She is a fierce (her word) advocate for these basic human rights, she says, which start with basic human security — food, shelter and safety. She wants equitable access to food and jobs (calls for justice 4.1 and 4.2), the right to a guaranteed annual income (4.5), and equitable access to affordable housing (4.6). 

She also wants better protections for kids in poverty (12.4). More effort to keep them with family (12.6). More protection for kids who age out of care (12.11). More effort to protect them from predators (12.12).

Why are we fighting for our basic human rights?- Rachel Willan

None of these calls have been fully implemented. Some have not even been started. 

But Willan won’t give up. “I’m going to say the word ‘fight’ a lot, because that’s what I do,” she said.  “Why are we fighting for our basic human rights? Why are we fighting for a meal in a lineup? Why are we fighting for a place to stay? Why are we dealing with so much racism?” 

Until Canada, and Canadians, honour these rights, the results will continue to be fatal. “We know that there’s a genocide in Canada,” said Willan. “I’m here for all of our sisters that have passed, and also the ones who are struggling.”

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour service at 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.

Support is also available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.


Writer/producer: Donna Carreiro
Photographer: Prabhjot Singh Lotey, Jaison Empson
Graphic designers: Lianne Sabourin, Brooke Schreiber
Editor: Joff Schmidt
Packaging: Caitlyn Gowriluk
Communications and marketing: Gabriela Klimes, Justin Deeley and Kayla Lawson
Editorial leads: Jillian Taylor, Bertram Schneider
Online senior producer: Amber Hildebrandt

A special thanks to Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counselling support team — especially Elder Cheryl Alexander — for providing cultural support and services to MMIWG families and loved ones during the filming process.