COLUMN: Keep the focus on missing and murdered women

The MMIW inquiry needs to stay on track, focused on finding ways to prevent violence against indigenous women and girls.

It’s become clear the idea to add men and boys to the scope of the MMIW inquiry  has gained traction in 2016. But the burning question is why mess with it now?

It’s become clear the idea to add men and boys to the scope of the MMIW inquiry has gained traction in 2016. But the burning question is why mess with it now?

I have to admit I was a little offput initially.

I am talking about the call by respected First Nations leaders, researchers, and social workers to expand the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women to include men and boys.

I was one of those who watched with great interest to see how things would roll out after PM Justin Trudeau made good on the election promise to go ahead with a national inquiry into MMIW.

It was heartening to see it moving forward, and it was long overdue.

Seeing it all set to go now, finally, on a national stage, with terms of reference and a big budget in place for the inquiry, was thrilling for someone who believes the mounting death toll, and disposable approach to the lives of aboriginal women has to be stopped once and for all in Canada.

The burning question I had was, why mess with it now?

It’s become clear that the idea to add men and boys to the scope of the inquiry mandate has gained traction in 2016 in some circles.

With so many stories focused on the vulnerable women who vanished or were violently taken from the streets, especially at the outset of the inquiry, it was full-on shocking to learn that a study by UBC Okanagan researcher Penny Handley showed that more than 71 per cent of the homicides of aboriginal people, were of men and boys.

That’s a huge chunk of all the homicides targeting men and youths, based on stats between 1982 and 2011.

But it was something Cheam Chief Ernie Crey said about not being able to ignore the stories, that made it more understandable — haunting even.

He’s been contacted or messaged on social media by dozens of distraught family members and loved ones, who asked him, “what about our missing and murdered men?”

He can’t just block out those voices. Maybe, as he’s suggested, the issue of violence against men could be broached by the inquiry, without detracting from the crucial questions the commissioners would be trying to answer about disappeared women.

That the homicide rate in indigenous communities is many times that of the wider community is a sickening travesty on its own. Certainly the undeniable fact that the vast majority of these violent crimes are perpetrated against males cannot be ignored.

It deserves to have serious attention paid to it as well, and those anguished loved ones deserve answers, and action on the justice side of things.

But the MMIW inquiry needs to stay on track.

It needs to remain focused on the number-one goal: finding ways to prevent violence against indigenous women and girls.

Taking on the men-and-boys angle might muddy those crystal-clear waters of the inquiry.

I tried but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I am compelled to point out that it’s taken so much fierce lobbying to get the national inquiry this far.

We were “this close” as a nation to being ready, at long last, to take a very hard look at the systemic roots of misogyny, violence and institutionalized sexism faced by aboriginal women.

I fear if the scope of the commission’s mandate for the inquiry is broadened too widely, if they are given the green light to look at the violent deaths suffered by women and girls, and men and boys, there’s no way those key questions about violent misogyny, which are by their very nature, gender-specific, could ever be answered in any meaningful way.

The force of the inquiry’s conclusions would be weakened and diluted before it even started.

I understand when it’s explained that the chance for an inquiry of this scale is seen in indigenous circles as an opportunity that may not come around again.

But I still don’t think we can risk it.

The focus of the inquiry must remain exclusively on missing and murdered women.