VERNON - An angry and upset First Nations woman used a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Vernon to confront Justice Minister Peter MacKay about missing and murdered aboriginal women.
No one at the packed luncheon, held at the Best Western Vernon Lodge and attended by local dignitaries and members of the business community, was expecting the outburst. It was as MacKay began speaking about the criminal justice system that Angie Todd-Dennis of the Carrier First Nation spoke up, interrupting him to ask about Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Todd-Dennis stood up and approached the podium, saying some of her relatives were lost on the Highway of Tears and that the government continues to ignore the issue.
An unfazed MacKay said he empathized with her tragic situation, but Todd-Dennis would have none of his sympathy.
“Please don’t patronize me, just tell me the truth,” she said.
Some in the audience could be heard saying ‘enough’ as Todd-Dennis continued to berate MacKay about the inequality of aboriginal women in the justice system before exiting the conference room. Outside the luncheon, she said MacKay’s answers were ‘very weak.'
“He talks about equality, you’ve heard him, but that’s all lies. There’s no equality when you can’t give equal justice to your First Peoples,” she said.
Todd-Dennis is from the Fort Saint James area, but is in the North Okanagan for the summer. She’s hopeful First Nations people will speak up this federal election, particularly after a call to action from the Assembly of First Nations.
“The assembly is telling chiefs to tell their people to vote, get your young people to vote anybody but Harper. I think that’s the first proactive movement I’ve seen coming across Canada,” she said.
In an interview with MacKay after the luncheon, the Justice Minister said he was not offended that she chose to voice her concerns at the event.
“I wish she had stayed and allowed me to have an opportunity to speak to her and to respond to some of those concerns because I can assure you that not only is the government responding, we are doing so in substantial ways,” MacKay said.
He said the government has responded to a number of recommendations made in reports over the years, and consulted with First Nations. One of Todd-Dennis’ statements was the need for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, but MacKay said that isn’t necessarily the answer.
“Part of the problem in my view, in my estimation, with having a national inquiry is much of this progress would be delayed. It would then result in massive resources and time sitting around a table hearing a lot of the same testimony that we have heard for years rather than putting all of the attention and focus and money and resources on action…. We’ve chosen the action route.”
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— This story was updated at 3:05 p.m., July 8, 2015, with comments from Todd-Dennis and MacKay.