Bennett holds MMIW pre-inquiry meeting in Vancouver

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett continued her cross-country tour as part of pre-inquiry meetings into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Vancouver on Tuesday.

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Bennett kicked off the circuit last week in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has so far scheduled at least four more stops before it is set to wrap up by summer.

The sessions -- which have been designated the "design phase" of the inquiry -- are being held with the victim's families, as well as frontline workers and other aboriginal community organizations.

On Tuesday, Bennett stressed the importance of reaching out to citizens across the country for their input.

"We hope that all Canadians will be part of this really important step forward on reconciliation," she said.

Bennett met with numerous victims' advocates, including several representatives from Vancouver's Memorial March Committee, which was created to honour missing and murdered women from the city's poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside.

The committee has been calling for a national inquiry for decades.

One member of the group, Fay Blaney, emphasized the need for the inquiry to address the issue of violence not only on a local level, but in Canadian society as a whole.

"We experience violence not only in our communities, but we experience violence from the larger population," she said.

Many of the advocates had relatives and friends who had gone missing or been murdered.

"These women had names and identities -- they mean something to us," said Carol Martin, a victim's service worker at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre and member of the committee.

Coola Louis, the women's representative for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, also met with Bennett and urged the minister to learn from B.C.'s 2012 report by the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

The report was issued in an effort to address the systemic gaps that allowed serial killer Robert Pickton to target sex workers in the Downtown Eastside.

The inquiry's commissioner, Wally Oppal, made 65 recommendations, including compensation for victims' families and safer transportation along B.C.'s so-called Highway of Tears.

Louis criticized the 2012 inquiry for being too limited in scope and not open to everyone who wanted to participate.

"We don't want to repeat some of the same mistakes," she said.

"And in this pre-inquiry stage, it is easy to slip."

Bennett hopes to complete the pre-inquiry consultation by as early as the beginning of May.

Canadians who can't attend in person can also take part by filling out an online survey.

With a report from CTV News' Melanie Nagy


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