Meeting with Commissioners and local Indigenous Groups
Name of Event/Meeting: Meeting with Commissioners and local Indigenous Groups
Location of Event/Meeting: British Columbia Room - John G. Diefenbaker Building, 111 Sussex Drive, Ottawa
Date of Event/Meeting: Thursday, January 26, 2017
PURPOSE OF EVENT/MEETING
To present the design of our hearings for families and people who have lost loved ones, and obtain advice from our guests.
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller, National Inquiry
Commissioner Qajaq Robinson, National Inquiry
Commissioner Michèle Audette, National Inquiry
Commissioner Brian Eyolfson, National Inquiry
Michèle Moreau, Executive Director, National Inquiry
Susan Vella, Lead Commission Counsel, National Inquiry
Michael Hutchinson, Director of Communications, National Inquiry
Gladys Wraight, Executive Assistant, National Inquiry
Paani Zizman, Tungasuvvingat Inuit, Executive Assistant to Jason Leblanc
Barbara Sevigny, Tungasuvvingat Inuit - Co-manager & counselor, Mamisarvik Healing Centre (Ottawa)
Tim Zehyr, Tungasuvvingat Inuit - Mamisarvik Healing Centre
Ulrike Komaksiutiksak, Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre, Director of programs
Rebecca Jones, Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre – Coordinator, Women’s Services: Violence Prevention Program
Karen Green, President, Makonsag Aboriginal Head Start
- Update on the work of the National Inquiry / Mise à jour sur le travail de l’Enquête nationale;
- How to include your protocols in the hearings? / Comment inclure vos protocoles lors des auditions?
- Which languages from your region should be accommodated by the National Inquiry? / Quelles langues de votre région l’Enquête nationale devrait-elle accommoder ?
- How to ensure a trauma-informed process? / Comment prendre en compte les traumatismes subis?
- Which locations should the National Inquiry consider to hold the hearings? / Quels lieux l’Enquête Nationale devrait considérer pour tenir les auditions?
- How can you contribute to the National Inquiry? / Comment vous pouvez contribuer à l’Enquête nationale?
- What are the regional issues? / Quels sont les enjeux régionaux?
Annex A: Agenda
Notes prepared by: Gladys Wraight and Bryan Zandberg
Title: Gladys Wraight - Executive Assistant to Comm. Robinson
Bryan Zandberg - Executive Assistant to Chief Comm. Buller
National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls
January 26, 2017
Regional Advisory Meeting
*** 8:30 meeting begins *
Chief Commissioner Marion Buller: I’d like to start by acknowledging the beautiful territory of the Anishinaabe people.
Michele Moreau: We are looking for advice and direction for our hearings with families, which will start in April.
Commissioner Robinson: We don’t have all the answers; we are here to learn from people with firsthand experience.
Commissioner Audette: For 40 years, for 30 years, for ten years, families have been asking for an inquiry to tell the truth. We want to honour these families, and all the Canadians who have been calling for an inquiry. On August 3rd there was finally an official announcement. We, the Commissioners, saw in the papers that there would be five commissioners and we had to google each other because most of us had never met before the announcement.
We thought we would be able to hit the ground running. Personally, I thought that there would be a pre-existing structure, an organisation with clear policies, and an information management system already in place. I imagined that we would be handed the keys to our offices and could get right down to work, since it wasn’t like this was the first inquiry in Canada. Starting this Inquiry was a cultural shock for me, I cannot speak for my colleagues. I am glad each of them brought his or her legal and organising experience.
By September, we realized how colossal the task was. We had to learn to get to know each other. We needed to submit a budget to the Privy Council Office. We started to bring in Canadians with knowledge and experience with inquiries. At the same time, we got a lot of calls from families, experts and survivors.
In October, we produced our strategic plan for carrying out our Terms of Reference. Inquiries begin when the public is shocked and horrified about a situation and there is a call for a light to be shone on something that is wrong. We need to respect what families and Canadians are seeking, and that is the truth. For us to find the truth, research will be important. So will listening and dialogue.
From August to the present, we continue to refine our strategic plan to ensure that we don’t increase the trauma that the people endure. How do we reach out to these people to see how we are going to do this when many live in remote communities?
We have been developing our communications plan to ensure that people understand how things will work. We have been building our team, which takes time. In the private sector things go fast, in our area it takes a little longer. I have a hard time with that sometimes, but I tell myself that I have to be patient and tolerant to make things work.
In November, we continued to meet in person and by Skype to plan our work, our budget and our timeline. We continued to hire the people we need. We asked ourselves a lot of questions, such as how we are going to approach institutions.
By December, we said, “We have been at this for a while, we have resources, our teams are getting fleshed out,” and we were ready to meet with Indigenous leaders and groups. We went to Wendake, Quebec in January to meet with territorial leadership in Quebec, frontline service providers to Indigenous communities and friendship centres in Quebec.
Each Commissioner has a Grandmother, an Elder, who has been participating at our meetings and they have a right to speak and give us guidance. They have time to remind us what we have to do. These women are very active and busy. We believe that this Inquiry is not a traditional one; we want to make sure that when we go into the various Indigenous territories and communities, that we go in an attitude of respect, and in the spirit of honouring who people are and their ways of living. Our grandmothers keep reminding us that we must not impose ourselves on communities, and we keep reminding ourselves of this too. We have to do things the right way to make sure that we reach the same goals and objectives. It is a very gratifying job.
Commissioner Eyolfson : We are here to prepare to hear from families with lost loved ones and survivors of violence. We want to hear the stories that they want to tell us. We are planning to have hearings that would be open to the public. We plan to hear stories that people want to tell us in an open forum. But we also plan to have statement takers for people who don’t want to tell their stories in a public forum. These statement takers who will be properly trained and trauma-informed. There will be other ways for people to tell their stories as well, by video for example.
We also will be hearing from governments and institutions, which will be at a later phase, although there will be overlap with our hearings from families with lost loved ones and survivors of violence.
That’s why we have invited you today. We are interested in what you have to say about how we should hold our hearings. Our space for hearing from people will be very different in layout from the courtroom environment. We don’t know if we want to use the word “hearings,” but when we come together to hear the stories, we want to make sure that these events open and close in the right way. The right local protocols need to be in place. We don’t want to just show up. We would like to incorporate your views in our hearing process. What languages are important? What does a trauma-informed process look like to you? Canada is vast and we have limited time and resources, where are the communities we need to go to? What issues are specific to your region or territory? Our Terms of Reference indicate the need to hold hearings in Indigenous communities.
Commissioner Robinson: It is important to give an overview of what we have been asked to do in our Terms of Reference. (Highlights terms.) We are authorized to establish regional advisory bodies and specific issue advisory bodies. This is something that we are doing. Our Terms direct us to look at ways that the lives of the loved ones that have been lost can be honoured and commemorated. Our Terms of Reference are very broad and we are looking to hear from you to know specifically how we can get this work done. Wanted to also just give you a bit of an idea of how we are seeing the country. It’s a national inquiry and we have the authority to investigate all levels of government – policing, child welfare, corrections.
Paani Zizman: On how our Indigenous communities feel about the policing question, and oversight: the provincial government in Ontario is undertaking a review for safer communities, and there will be consultations with Indigenous communities under that process. How is that process feeding into what you need from federal and provincial policing? Are you getting that feedback from them?
Commissioner Robinson: We know that they are a lot of reports and investigations that have been done and we are aware of this process. Part of our strategic planning with our legal and research teams will be to answer the specific questions we have been asked to look at. We will look at what has been done already and where there are gaps. We are an independent inquiry and this is important because the recommendations that we produce have to be impartial. Won’t be engaging in partnerships or affiliations. We are going to learn from the process underway in Ontario but have to keep our independence.
We have 13 different provincial and federal orders-in-council, but we don’t see those lines. No boundaries will divide up our work or the way we do it. Indigenous communities like the Inuit are divided up by boundaries that divide their communities, and they didn’t have a voice in that.
Chief Commissioner Buller: We are not going into communities and imposing ourselves on them. We will go where we have received permission and specific invitations to be there. Enough has been imposed already. When we are looking at governments, we have the power to look at all policies and practices of federal, provincial, and territorial, but also Indigenous governments. So they come under our purview as well.
Going on behind the scenes is a huge research component. We do not have time to reinvent the wheel. Our Terms of Reference require that we must look at all existing reports. We can’t duplicate that research because we have neither the time nor the budget. We are attempting to revitalise Indigenous laws. This will be a major component to the research. Lastly, we intend to do a lot of legacy-building, in terms of practice, developing a whole new model for national inquiries, revitalising Indigenous law, and honouring the lost loved ones and survivors.
So far we are on track to complete this process on time, and within budget. Families want closure. We are deeply committed to this work. We are working weekends and we are working nights to get this done. Nobody is looking for a pat on the back. This is about closure for people.
Commissioner Audette reminded me how this Inquiry started in my garage. We only had the paper that the Terms of Reference were on, and that’s it. So we are a garage band (laughter).
Karen Green: What is your governance structure? We don’t need to worry about bias. We need to be careful about been [apologetic] about something we all know is a major issue. People have filters when they do research. I was involved in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People and wrote the women’s chapter. How will information flow to the Commissioners? Have you talked about how you as Commissioners are going to talk about the information and process it?
Susan Vella: We are looking at structuring this in such a way that information will reach the Commissioners largely through legal counsel in a reliable way. That’s the working premise. We are creating a process that recognises that truth-collecting isn’t only defined by the usual inquiry model. We are able to receive information that might not be admissible in the court of law, and we plan to do that. We are looking at information being presented to the Commissioners but in public hearings, but also in accordance with a trauma-informed process; in-camera meaning in private; in public but with a publication ban in place so that identities of witnesses are not revealed; through trained statement-takers; through panels of expert witnesses (youth reps, Elders, academics, criminologists, professionals) on specific topic. We are also looking at safe ways for families to present their story. For example, rather than have each family member talk to the commissioner, it might be better to have the family members together, side-by-side. In terms of research, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. We can extrapolate existing evidence and present that to the Commissioners so they can make their findings of fact in conjunction with all the other facets of
Karen Green: So, all of the information is going through the legal team? I am a lawyer myself. Are other groups are going to be able to receive assistance through legal counsel?
Susan Vella: That is the issue of standing. We have not figured this out completely yet. There will be a standing applications, financial criteria, family criteria. People will be able to make applications for standing, and there will be the possibility for funded legal counsel in that context. That said, this is not meant to be an Inquiry like all the others. We don’t want this to be about a bunch of lawyers cross-examining and taking the show away from the people. This is not meant to be an inquiry like the others. We do not want to take away from the people. We want this to be a de-lawyered process as possible. Obviously if people need protections, that is a different story. But we want the protections built into the process. We have a phenomenal team of primarily Indigenous legal counsel from Indigenous regions all across the country.
Chief Commissioner Buller: One of our goals in getting information from you about our hearings is to come up with a model or practice where people won’t need lawyers. We don’t want families to feel the need to lawyer up. I want the families to feel that they are coming into our living room to have some tea and cake and talk about what happened. And we will listen to what happened. There will be no cross-examination on things like, “Well, you’re not telling the truth about the colour of that sweater!” There will be nothing like that. I am hoping you will help us to develop this model. Our approach will be, “We want you to be comfortable talking to us directly, not through your lawyer.” We want it to be a welcoming environment.
Karen Green: There is a perception that it is a lawyer-heavy Commission. You might want to deal with this in your communications because this is the perception.
Barbara Sevigny: There is a lack of research amongst Inuit with PTSD. I am excited to hear that there will be research done. A lot of the women have severe PTSD and they get into unhealthy relationships. Are you looking for trauma-assessment tools? Because this is crucial when looking at depression, PTSD and revictimisation. Are you looking at creating those tools?
Chief Commissioner Buller: We don’t have the right person at the table today to answer that, our Health Director. We will have health workers available who go in advance of our arrival, making sure people get the supports they need. Then after we leave, the support will still be there so people are receiving the types of services they need (whether Western or Indigenous). In terms of assessment I don’t know.
Barbara Sevigny: There are many decades of unresolved cases and this has a huge impact on people’s mental wellbeing. It’s not two pages of a questionnaire the tool that we use. But it would be an ideal to have a tool to see if people have severe, moderate or no PTSD. There is trained staff on how to make it user-friendly. It is an Ontario standard assessment tool, a civilian one, and it gives us good indicators as to where people are at so that we can give referrals where necessary. If you are going into communities and you don’t want to do harm, it could be months after the stories are shared that the person is triggered. It is a can of worms and you can’t control it. It could be a booklet on how to ground yourself, how to cope, how deal with it rather than turning to substance, who your support workers are and when to reach out. Will your support workers know how to teach the grounding techniques, how to plan this. For the Research piece, you do need a tool that is recognised, based on some good data. The tool in Ontario might be useful in your travels.
Commissioner Audette: I agree with what you are saying Barbara. There are groups and nations that we do not hear enough from, or about. They are under the radar. What you are seeing is precise and we need to collaborate with you.
Susan Vella: I have had the privilege of representing the survivors of Ralph Rowe since 1995 and taking them through the litigation process. I have seen the impacts of that litigation process on those young men and have also seen the devastating impacts on their partners and their communities because of the demons these men have. I have been working in this area for 28 years. What you say is very important. We have to look at the impacts on Indigenous women and girls, on their families, their partners and their communities generally. People need to be properly prepared, not just from a legal perspective. In my private legal practice, I work in tandem with the survivor’s counselor who teaches me what the triggering points are. I learn the ways the counselor grounds the survivor. So the information you have is very important to the legal team and research team. This may form part of the facts found by the Commissioners. It is related to reducing the violence towards Indigenous women and girls. This is relevant to the mandate and this is the help we need.
Barbara Sevigny: I want to walk away knowing what you are looking for from us. What will help in your journey when you are working with the people. There is secondary transference. There’s a lot of hard stories out there and they can be traumatising. There needs to be a well-planned out process for the journeys to come. Those local counsellors will be there after you leave, and they need the proper training with your staff to get the community ready before the commissioners come to town and the after-care plan. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
Ulrike Komaksiutiksak: It’s nice to know what is expected of us. In the remote communities, from step one to step ten there must be clarity in a language and a process that make sense to the community. You say you will only go into communities where you are invited. But I hear about your budget. Be careful of raisingg expectations that you cannot meet. We are all happy to support the process.
Karen Green: Having worked with the families, I know there is lot of trauma with the families and survivors. You will be dealing with a high level demand. Sometimes that trauma started long before the person went missing or was murdered. The families have high expectations. The goal of closure for the families probably won’t be reached because there will be no re-investigation of cases. That will be really complex. Likely the families will have more questions than answers at the end of this. So it is really important to work within the families so that they can tell their stories the way they want to tell it. They need to inform us how to do that. We have to work closely with them. The families have been telling their stories a lot; just the number of people that wanting them to tell their stories, it’s almost exploitive. Everyone time they see or hear something in the news about their loved one, they are glad the issuing is staying alive however it is triggering every time. We also have to remember that it isn’t safe for women to tell their stories in their communities. Often there is no counsellor, or it is not safe to work with the police. It is easy to jeopardise people’s safety. There are secrets. It is easy to go there, talk, leave and they are still traumatise. There can be ripple effects and we need to manage that process.
Tim Zehyr: When you ask us what communities you should go to, we would probably say every one. There will be fall-out from people who are upset that you didn’t come. So it is difficult to recommend where you should go. As an Inuit organisation, even we struggle with the local dialects. You need to keep education in mind. The police forces are coming from an environment where there is an extreme lack of education around systemic issues. Will that be addressed in your recommendations?
Chief Commissioner Buller: Karen, you mentioned the importance of families and survivors having different options for telling their stories. We have some options already in place: with the Commissioners in a public hearing, with the Commissioners in private; with statement-takers; in writing or by video and audio and sent to us. We all know, from our own experiences, that it isn’t comfortable for some people to speak publicly in a community. We know about community dynamics where it is simply not safe. That is the benefit of a statement-taker.
We can’t go into every community. We have about eight months. We are going to split up into two teams, and we have to run hearings across Canada simultaneously to get to as many communities as we can. We don’t have the budget to go to every community because travel is expense. In order to compensate this we have the statement-takers. We have already started receiving phone calls and statements. We are fortunate to have the option to use statement-takers in our Terms of Reference. I hope some people will want to use that process. If there are other ideas for how we can hear stories, we want to hear them.
In terms of education and recommendations, we don’t need any more theory. We want it to be practical, worded in a way that is easily understood by everyone, and actionable. I’m tired of theory; I want to do something measurable.
Commissioner Robinson: We are not cold-calling families. We are trying to create an opportunity for families to approach us. We want to create a safe way for them to safely and confidentially reach out to us. We don’t want to call up people, put them in a plane, and fly them to Ottawa. I’ve seen that.
This is delicate and some families feel that they have been exploited. What thoughts do you have on how you do this? What are your thoughts on the best way to connect with families and survivors? What kind of Ottawa communities should we be mindful of? How do we create an inclusive space in urban centres, where the protocols are a mosaic, and not like in remote communities.
Barbara Sevigny: How to select families with a missing loved one is a good question. You don’t want to get into a family that is already in survival mode. You don’t want to choose a family that’s already abusing substances, or dealing with the criminal justice system at the time.
I was a support worker under Health Canada in Ontario and northern Quebec. We did a lot of debriefing about the families we were seeing, identifying which ones were going to be ok, which ones were well-spoken and had good coping skills. We based our decisions on which people needed more grounding skills and support. There was a lot of follow-up. Prep the first responders. Tell them, “This is when we are coming, be prepared,” so there will be extra services, or to prevent any kind of negative reaction. Even the news that you are coming could cause a negative reaction. Go work with the counsellors and talk about best practices. That will let them work with confidence. They are the ones who will be there afterward. We can share that knowledge with you.
Commissioner Audette: This exactly what I love to hear, that this is a collective effort. Thank you for using the word “we.” This isn’t about 5 Commissioners and their staff; local group and families can get involved in the process, help define it and carry it out.
We forgot to mention that when we met with families of survivors informally, they talked about several options for the selection of families and advisors. They all said, “Make sure that the families that help and guide you have had their own healing process, so that they are not harmed by this.” There are networks of women in Canada who help each other out. They have leadership, and they are communicating that expertise and guidance to us.
Tim Zehyr: I want to come back to the communities, the isolated areas. I would encourage you to find ways to partner up with different people to help bring people to an area where you are. Maybe there are different airlines, who can offer some sort of discount in some of the more remote parts of the country. Look at partnerships in the corporate world to see where we can get some help.
Michele Moreau: Noted. Because of our independence, I am not sure yet what we can and cannot do in terms of partnerships. I will look at that.
Rebecca Jones: We talked about preparing the first responders. I foresee there people responding by turning to substances. The local police need to be brought into the planning. Most small communities only have two officers. They will be in a better position to do their work if they go into a situation knowing that such-and-such a person was part of these difficult conversations. It would be a great help.
Ulrike Komaksiutiksak: The health supports will have to manage vicarious trauma if they’ve been through something similar. I am thinking about the impacts on children and youth. If the family is telling their stories, they are going to be impacted. If they have been keeping something inside them, there will be impacts. You mentioned statement-takers; some people may want to tell their stories, drawing. This can be a source of follow-up and healing for people who are voiceless. Please consider the children and youth. It is a big event when strangers come into their communities. You need to honour the stories of their communities. Find ways to celebrate, joie de vivre to counterbalance all the heaviness and remember the importance of embracing life. Not everyone will want to do trauma informed counselling.
Karen Green: That’s fantastic. How are you defining community? Who is the request going to or coming from to be considered community? Community is different from family. People are ofter inter-related in these communities. You need to respect the protocols. I hear a lot how people get tired of Pan-aboriginal.
Chief Commissioner Buller: Community is self-defined. Let me give you a practical example. In Vancouver, the Downtown East Side is considered the largest urban reserve in Canada, and there are three First Nations who claim that territory. Before we would have any type of hearing or action, I would make sure that the three first nations who claim that territory agreed that we could have a hearing there. So the hearing would look very mixed, and that would take some consultation. But along the Highway of Tears, a lot of the communities are really well defined. Communities are self-defined. In northern BC there are competing land claims and so you have to be careful who you ask first for permission. We are alert to some, not all of those political issues. We will make some mistakes along the way but we will learn from them.
Karen Green: What about an example like a women’s group that invites the Commission to the territory where the local council opposes your presence? I like to think about things that can undermine me so that I can prepare in advance.
Chief Commissioner Buller: It won’t be easy. We will need to seek advice about these competing types of interest. That is one of the reasons why we hold these sorts of meetings. We will ask our logistics groups and other people with communities to clarify that we have spoken to the right people and groups and that we have permission. It’s critical and complicated, but we are not going to give up.
Paani Zizman: A third of our population of Inuit don’t live in the homelands. According to StatsCan, our largest urban population is in Edmonton, with 1100 people. So we’re not North of 60, we are South of 60. There is no terminology for them. I would like to work with you to guide you to those third generations down South. One of the strongest methods to reach communities is radio. Communities tell us that. We know from experience. Our organization has a lot to share on how to reach all these other cities. There are organizations that are ready to work with us and you.
*** coffee break ***
Barbara Sevigny: There lady who was part of community consultation in Ottawa, but she cried all the way back to Iqaluit. She did well with us here at the hotel; that helped her stay grounded. But when she was going home, she cried all the way to Iqaluit. There was a charter picking up the survivors but there was no counsellor on board. This was a recommendation.
We’ve seen too much where people react by turning to substances, harming people in their lives, or taking their own lives. The remote communities will be comforted if they see that you are taking care of them from beginning to end. When you are going from one urban city to another, have one consistent person traveling from place to place training the local teams you will work with about severe PTSD. I have colleagues who had to be removed because they were triggered by stories in northern Quebec. We need to be very careful when family members are travelling.
Tim Zehyr: Are you looking for specific communities and areas? Or do you want feedback after?
Chief Commissioner Buller: We are looking for specifics about places you would recommend. This is not etched in stone. This is how we see a week going: Sunday, Monday will be travel and set up days. Our lawyers and health teams will be in the communities in advance. On Monday night, we expect that there would be a ceremony or feast of some sort. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we would hear from family and survivors. On Thursday night there would be a closing ceremony or a feast, it really depends on the community. Friday the Commissioners would leave. but the rest of health support stay.
We need guidance on locations, buildings, infrastructure. We will need a hotel for a team from anywhere of 10-15 people. We have to feed our staff. We don’t want to take food from the local people. I know from my experience as a circuit court judge that there can be limited resources. We need to know if there a building in that community with a kitchen; if a translation booth or two can be accommodated; if there is reliable electricity; if there are side rooms for family members, Elders and child care. So we will need a lot of space and resources. Oh, and Internet! (laughter) This will affect the communities we can go to. This is one more reason for relying on statement-takers, since they don’t require the same infrastructure. So yes, if you can recommend communities, we will take them.
Ulrike Komaksiutiksak: In urban centres like Ottawa, you might want to consider multiple venues. People have different schedules, night and day. Child care and elder spaces are important. You want to be flexible.
Barbara Sevigny: In terms of how to include protocol in the hearings and how to make it most welcoming, I can say I appreciated the blankets at the other community consultations. If there was something similar to reflect all of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit that would be good. For example there could be a traveling qulliq honouring the missing and murdered women. A story goes a long way for people when you are looking at welcoming them. That represents you as a team.
There are something like 27 dialects in the Nunavut area. In my experience with TI these last 16 years, the one common dialect that works well is the Baffin one, and they understand the majority of the other dialects. To be respectful of those that are in other areas, I would strongly recommend having interpreters or translators on the side because these stories will be documented.
In terms of location of hearings, Ottawa is a good location to draw the other small urban centres because seeing our agencies and organisation here will empower them. They can grow in their cities once they have seen what we have here. There is very little resources in the smaller urban cities. We want them to feel empowered and we want everyone to support each other.
As for how to contribute to National Inquiry, Mamisarvik Healing Centre has trained bilingual counsellors and social workers who work with grounding tools and coping techniques and we can offer a couple of them to do some counselling here if needed.
For our regional issues, we see a lot of mental health issues because of unresolved trauma and addictions. There is PTSD. There is schizophrenia. There are commonalities in terms of symptoms of PTSD and schizophrenia. I work with a woman who was victimised by a man in a high position of authority. Out of fear she hears voices, and she is paranoid, but it is PTSD, not schizophrenia. They have diagnosed and are medicating her for the wrong thing.
When people feel unsafe they get into substances and unhealthy relationships. Our values as Inuit is to not just know, but to help. There’s no women shelters in the North where they can go. There are a lot of passive people because of trauma. We hear a lot of “How can I…” Speaking in your own language has been one crucial piece in my counselling, and especially for people’s healing. They need to talk about the trauma in their own words and in their own language.
Rebecca Jones: Having worked at Baffin Correctional Centre, I wanted to say that Inuit people came there from all over the North, and I saw how important it is to work with staff who speak the different dialects. So if you have one translator who speaks the Baffin dialect, bring someone else who speaks the other dialects too.
When I worked in victim services, I heard a lot of complaints about how things like commissions gravitate to urban centres. Remember to go to the smaller communities as well.
One more thing: Inuit are very quiet. They will go into court to make their statement and if asked if they speak English, they will say, “Yes I do,” but really they can’t articulate themselves well. They still need that translator there.
Karen Green: I hope that we don’t forget our women who are incarcerated. It is a large population.
Someone said that the people would first meet with a lawyer. This may not be the best way for the family to meet the Commission. A lot of Indigenous people mistrust institutions.
Is the person who is speaking going to be able to sign off on their testimony? How much time will you give to people to tell their stories? How will you walk that fine line?
How are we defining an institution, and selecting the spokespeople for those institutions (police, prison centre, etc.)? How do we know we are getting the right person and the full story?
Susan Vella: There are many ways that we hope to reach the right people. We are conversing and will converse with the select spokespeople for the various institutions. We will also have our own trusted advisors who know their way around the particular institutional setting. Ie Who knows what? Another way is the documents - we are setting up a document protocol for all the institutions that are relevant to the Inquiry. We want to have a constructive relationship with institutions. We want them to want to be better and we want them to put in our recommendations in place. We want these to be a productive relationships.
Karen Green: How will you get to the rank and file? Everyone will be posturing because of liability issues down the road. Will there be a hotline for people to call? Or will you only be talking to people who, by virtue of their position, have to posture?
Susan Vella: We will be speaking to the families, communities, survivors and community activists and they may be prepared to share insights into the organizations and institutions. So that will be another source of leads too. It’s about building blocks. One thing goes onto the next.
Karen Green: Could you meet with Indigenous RCMP officers? Or people who are disadvantaged within their institutions, which are inherently racist on account of how they are structured?
Susan Vella: We might for instance talk with retired former police force members who won’t have those fears. These are all sources.
Chief Commissioner Buller: Important point. We are going to have a variety. We intend to have expert panels running at the same time as the institutional hearings, and one of those panels could be retired police officers, social workers. I was on a commission of inquiry in BC where we kept on getting the party line from the white shirts until the very last group, the Aboriginal police officers. I think it was at ten o’clock at night. And they were the ones who gave us the most useful information. I haven’t forgotten that.
These things are definitely on the table; we have not sent out the invitations as of yet. Regardless of whether we are talking to families, survivors, institutional representatives, expert panels, there will be one question we will ask all of them, it may change in wording a little bit, but it is along the lines of: What would make it better? What could have made it better? What do you think would have made a difference? Because I firmly believe that communities know what the problems are and what the solutions are as well. We want to empower not only individuals, but communities, and leave them better than when we arrived.
Ulrike Komaksiutiksak: There is a fear of systems. We do have space. We can help with outreach in Ottawa area. We want to collaborate with TI and other organisations. A huge barrier can be transportation for the participants. Partners on the ground here in Ottawa can find a way so that people who need to tell their stories are given the equitable opportunity to do so.
Chief Commissioner Buller: We have heard from several people about reaching out to women in penitentiaries. What is the best way to reach out to them? Is it a pair of statement-takers? Can we bring them to hearings?
Barbara Sevigny: We go to the institutions to have one-on-one interviews with a counselor there. A record-taker could go there as well. Make sure there is pre-counselling prior to meeting. Learn how they can they proceed without overwhelming themselves. Have a bilingual counsellor there with the record-taker.
Rebecca Jones: There’s only one women’s jail in Iqaluit. Sometimes they are allowed to leave the centre. There does need to be some pre-counselling. There could be a simple group session with one of the guards. Or there could be an option of it being private session. They could come to the guard afterwards and say, “Yes, I would like to speak to someone.”
Barabara Sevigny: Keep in mind that sometimes people don’t want a counsellor that they know. When you do have your counsellors, give options. It gives people a choice and you make sure that there is no conflict of interest.
Rebecca Jones: You should have both male and female counsellor options.
Susan Vella: With respect to approaching women in prison in the manner you suggested, should we be prepared for the possibility that women will be frightened to disclose things to us because it would jeopardise their parole eligibility or their access to their children or used against them somewhere down the road?
Barbara Sevigny: This is where you need to have an experienced counsellor going in to prep the incarcerated person. They will need to communicate that this about their being victimised. Otherwise they will not want to talk to lawyers.
Rebecca Jones: You have to be mindful of security issues. Some people, on account of their own trauma, they will get violent. You should have someone in the room with you with some clients.
Karen Green: I was going to say that as well. Incarcerated Indigenous women face more discipline and spend more time in solitary confinement. So it doesn’t take much for them to see more conditions imposed against them. It will be important for them to know how the information will be used. These women should have a say in how the information is going to be used, and be comfortable with it. There are safety conditions that need to taken into consideration.
Commissioner Audette: In a former life, I visited five institutions and met with Indigenous offenders. In one institution there was a sweat lodge. If we go to Iqaluit you do not have that sweat lodge tradition. Is there a spiritual approach you have for Inuit?
Rebecca Jones: No we don’t. There are sewing groups. A lot of elders use that approach. Sewing or cooking can be used in prisons. It helps build a personal relationship so they see you are human too.
Karen Green: You need to establish trust because you won’t be able to build a relationship before you start having that difficult conversation.
Barbara Sevigny: Bring someone the community has identified as an Elder into the jail, rather than someone who claims to be one. A good role model in the community who is non-judgmental, and not using substances. Light the qulliq. The youths at the corrections have lost their identity along the way. Acknowledge that, yes this is who I am.
Tim Zehyr: There are medical boarding homes across the country for people that can’t access the medical care they need in their communities. They are in every region. Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Yellowknife. These facilities help people get appointments and get care, they feeds Inuit as well as look after their transportation. You may be able to access those facilities as well.
Barbara Sevigny: Very good point. This would engage people from smaller communities. Good in terms of logistics. We do see a lot of victims coming through the medical boarding home, coming from abusive relationships. There are teams there do referrals and that could be a good partnership for you.
Karen Green: Make sure that there is a culturally relevant gender-based analysis. The histories of Inuit, Metis and First Nations are different.
Rebecca Jones: The community justice division might be a good lead as well. They have one worker in each community. They know who’s who in the communities and deal with people in the correction system. They might be a good resource.
Commissioner Audette: Another topic: vocabulary. “Consultation” is a word I find irritating. I would like you to help me find another word. Do you have any suggestions?
Karen Green: I don’t like the word because it has legal connotations, under “the duty to consult.” Kind of like the word “hearing” – there has to be a better word.
Barbara Sevigny: In my culture we are very into storytelling. When we say what the purpose is behind storytelling in my language, we say “It is to discover how we can” (gives the term in Inuktitut), “I would like to get a greater understanding.” It’s all about how you say it. It’s all in how you put it to the public.
Rebecca Jones: Maybe you should tailor an explanation to each population you are speaking to.
Michele Moreau: I am really impressed. You have given us a lot of information and advice. This is rich, and exactly what we need to do this in a good way.
Chief Commissioner Buller: I have been told to give you homework (laughter). Would you please look at our website and FAQs? We invite your comments. This is not the end of our relationship. We welcome your comments, constructive criticism and ideas. We need your help. Thank you.
Commissioner Audette: I have a message from Commissioner Poitras [who was unable to attend], she sends a reminder that our women, daughters and grandmothers are sacred. We are sacred. We need to stop the discourse of victimisation. We need to emphasise empowerment. Yes, the truth is important, but there are also great things going on in our communities. As part of your involvement we are inviting you to keep in close contact with us.
Commissioner Robinson: I want to express my gratitude (speaks in Inuktitut) We have gained understanding. We will have staff, community relationship people, who may be more who you talk to as this goes on.
Commissioner Eyolfson: Thank you all very much. I have learned a lot. I appreciate you all taking the time out to come here this morning.
Rebecca Jones: It has been an honour to be invited to this. I am the women’s services violence prevention coordinator and I am working for systemic change. So I am working with Ottawa police and other organizations to better serve Inuit women in Ottawa. And I have business card to put out there (laughter).
Michele Moreau: We will build our list of contacts and if you think there are other organizations that could have been here please let me know.
Barbara Sevigny: I wanted to say that it is a great honour. Having been a support worker in some of the community consultations, it is a huge milestone for the people. They feel researched out and have been saying, “We know what we want.” So this is a great opportunity and I am excited for your journey. I will be following it closely because it is very exciting for the people. Thank you.
*** 11:40 a.m. meeting ends ***