In the town of Enderby, British Columbia, the community got together to create a moving mural entitled No More Stolen Sisters. The mural was painted over a skateboard installation to commemorate the three women who went murdered and missing from this community last year.
Deanna Wertz, Caitlin Potts, and my cousin Ashley Simpson all went missing from here, and from nearby Salmon Arm, within months of each other. These were not random disappearances, nor were they atypical in a province that is becoming known as much for its murdered women as it is for its breathtaking mountain scapes.
The epidemic of lost women, mostly indigenous women and girls, has left a black mark on this nation known more for hockey and poutine than for violence. It has also raised serious concerns about the endemic racism that exists in many communities where First Nations people and other Canadians live side-by-side, or co-exist within sprawling rural/urban communities.
The alarm bells rang so loudly that the federal government established a commission to look into the matter eight months ago. So far, that commission has spent $6 million and shown little, if any, progress. Its "ineptitude" was recently laid bare by the CBC's Neil Macdonald who tried to contact the commission only to hit what he describes as a "bureaucratic" fortress. People within and outside the commission have pointed to the commission's "obsession with secrecy, officious incompetence, however well-intentioned." You can read Neil's excellent piece here.
Meanwhile, even the father of Canada's Justice Minister, Bill Wilson, has condemned the commission. In a Facebook site, he calls it a "bloody farce."
"It has done nothing but pay salary and expenses," he wrote in a posting. "When asked what they were doing (the commissioner) said they were busy working" making sure they had rooms in Whitehorse and arranging catering. They also decided to take the summer off.
"You have failed miserably," said Wilson, who is a respected hereditary chief from B.C.
One thing about Ottawa, I've learned after more than four decades of working here, when the government wants an issue to go away, it sets up a commission and throws a bundle of money at it.
Action and Commission -- these are two words that have little to do with one another.
Dirty little secret
The epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women is just one more dirty little secret that Canada likes to ignore. Like residential schools,
It's not a sexy issue for voters. And it's thorny, and fraught with racism, sexism, and indifference at all levels.
These women aren't, after all, our soccer queens going missing, right?
And it's not like they didn't, well, you know, drink, or "run off".
It seems the only way to care about the missing and murdered is to know one, remember her laugh, or how her hair smelled, or what she was like as a little girl before the boogeyman got to her.
In the case of my cousin Ashley, it took days for those who knew her to report her missing, even to her mother. And it took ten days before anybody even started looking for her. It's been over a year, and her father has been given no information, only that the police are "following the evidence".
Her family has lost its life savings trying to find her. Her dad is paying people, as we speak, to fly drones around the Salmon Arm area to look for the three women.
And as an extra fish slap to the face, John lost his EI, the very EI he got because he is a father of a missing child, because he had to travel back to B.C. from his home in Niagara to look for her -- because everybody has stopped looking for her. Even the police.
Before Ashley disappeared, I was among the ignorant.
Like most Canadians, I had only vague knowledge about missing indigenous women, What I did learn came from a smattering of salacious newspaper accounts about disappearing prostitutes found Robert Pickton's pig farm.
For that I feel ashamed.