APTN National News
Judy Maas’ turn arrived again to speak in the final moments of Friday’s national roundtable on murdered and missing Indigenous women and, facing federal cabinet ministers and provincial premiers, she told them they had all “failed miserably.”
Maas, whose 35 year-old sister Cynthia Maas was murdered by a serial killer in 2010, was one of four delegates chosen to represent the families of the murdered and the missing around the big table where the premiers of Ontario, Manitoba, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories sat along with the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the federal Status of Women Minister.
“In our opinion you have failed miserably. Canada must address the shame they have created by systematically taking the Indian from the Indian. This policy has put blood on your hands, the blood of innocent women and children who have suffered the greatest insults, the price of their lives,” said Maas, according to a recording of the closed-door meeting obtained by APTN National News. “My baby sister was worth more than the mere pittance of short term funding and solutions.”
The room was dead silent while she spoke, but erupted in applause after she ended, according to the recording.
Provincial and federal leaders, along with the heads of the major Indigenous organizations across the country, responded by agreeing to meet again next year and begin developing a national approach to dealing with the disproportionate number of Indigenous women and girls who face deadly violence.
The historic one-day roundtable held at the Marriott Hotel in Ottawa also produced a finalized framework to guide ongoing work on the issue leading up to next year’s meeting which will be held in Manitoba and focus on policing and justice issues. The meeting’s delegates also agreed to immediately begin developing a pan-Canadian awareness campaign about violence against Indigenous women.
“It is a national issue, it is not an issue for one organization or one province, it is a national issue. It is not even just an Aboriginal issue, this is an issue for every single one of us,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. “We are together in this country and if one child is vulnerable and unsafe, then we all are.”
NWT Premier Bob McLeod, who chaired the meeting, and Wynne both said there were some issues that the two levels of government couldn’t reach immediate agreement on, but neither would describe them.
“(Ottawa) will have to answer the question on their own. The fact is that the provinces and territories and the Aboriginal organizations across the country are working very hard on these issues,” said Wynne. “We are on the same page, we are working to find a partner with the federal government.”
Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt both denied there were any disagreements during the roundtable.
“Actually, we supported each of the action items that were put forward on the table, whether it be the actual framework or the pan-Canadian action plan that Premier Wynne put forward, those were things we supported,” said Leitch.
What Ottawa did disagree with was a request from Wynne that all sides represented at the roundtable hold a joint press conference.
According to audio obtained from inside the meeting, Wynne asked the federal representatives to join the rest of the group.
“I heard a rumour that Canada was going to be doing a separate press conference. I just hope that’s not the case because I think it would be wonderful for everyone to be together,” she said.
Leitch, however, alluded to a possible security issue being the reason behind the decision to hold separate pressers, according to the audio recording.
“I’m in the hands of the RCMP, to be frank with you,” said Leitch, according to the audio recording.
APTN National News asked an RCMP officer who was part of the security detail at the Marriott Hotel whether security issues were keeping the federal ministers from joining the rest of the delegates at the press conference. The officer said the decision on press conferences was up to the federal politicians.
Leitch told reporters at the federal media event, which was held at the Delta Hotel across the road from the Marriott, that the decision was made in the best interest of the family members.
“Out of respect to the 20 organizations as well as to the families we felt that they should be able to get their message out,” said Leitch.
There was a minor security issue during the roundtable after some family members of murdered and missing Indigenous women, along with a hand-full of demonstrators entered the Marriott’s lower lobby demanding people walk out of the roundtable.
RCMP, Ottawa police and hotel security kept a wary eye on the group which was pacified to a degree by Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association President Cheryl Maloney who left the roundtable meeting to stand with the demonstrators and family members.
Back inside the roundtable meeting, Maas drew a line from Canada’s colonial history to the government institutions it created and the death of her sister.
“Some have enjoyed the benefits taken from our lands, but we, the first peoples, have not enjoyed that, nor have we enjoyed the freedom or the human rights. There are no dollar amounts that can bring back or replace our loss,” said Maas, according to the audio recording of her closing remarks. “Please do not insult my intelligence. I challenge you to take what you heard, to truly understand, to move forward out of the dark ages and create some measurable outcomes…I can take my sister as an example and measure her experience against the system, where it failed, how it failed and why it failed for her. The ministry of children and family was instrumental in putting the final nail on her coffin and her killer, only a means of physical death.”
Maas’ sister Cynthia Maas was murdered by serial killer Cody Legebokoff who was sentenced to 25 years in September 2014. Cynthia Maas’ remains were found at a park in Prince George, B.C.
“I can tell you that I and others know first-hand the underlying racism and hatred within all systems in Canada,” she said. “You as leaders have a duty and obligation to stand against the wrongdoings, immoral judgments unethical actions of your own.”