A paper bag used to collect the tears of those testifying, to then be burned in a sacred fire, is seen at the final day of hearings at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Richmond, B.C., on Sunday April 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Mother of missing Indigenous woman hits feds, RCMP with $600M class action

She is alleging a “negligent” and “lackadaisical” approach to investigating missing and murdered Indigenous women

A Regina mother whose daughter went missing in 2007 is launching a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against the federal government and the RCMP, alleging a “negligent” and “lackadaisical” approach to investigating missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Danita Faith has been missing for more than 10 years, and her mother Diane BigEagle is the caretaker of her two children.

Saskatchewan lawyer Anthony Merchant, who filed the suit Thursday on BigEagle’s behalf, is seeking $500 million in damages, as well as $100 million in punitive damages, part of an effort to effect change in policing attitudes and behaviour.

“The conduct of the RCMP was wilful, arrogant, callous, and high-handed, and constituted a gross violation of the rights of the plaintiff and the class,” says the statement of claim.

In an interview, Merchant said by asking for punitive damages, “the hope and expectation is that addressing attitudes and systemic problems in the RCMP will have a positive effect on the same kind of problems that exist in the municipal police forces.”

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, refused to comment on a specific case that is before the courts. But he did note that when she appeared last month before the national inquiry in Regina, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki apologized to the affected families.

“She acknowledged that, for many, the RCMP was not the police service they needed it to be, and she pledged to do better.”

The suit alleges systemic negligence on the part of the RCMP in investigating cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and says family members have been forced to endure mental anguish because of the RCMP’s failure to properly investigate and prosecute the disappearances.

It also includes a lengthy list of allegations against the RCMP and its handling of cases, including providing false assurances of safety to victims and those in the class suit, choosing not to be transparent, and failing to keep the class informed of the progress of investigations, among others.

BigEagle met with the RCMP more than 50 times about her daughter’s disappearance, but investigators did not pay attention nor take notes during the meetings, the documents allege. When the girl first disappeared, police allegedly dismissed BigEagle’s complaint, saying her daughter would probably come home.

The documents include the names and stories of 36 Indigenous women and girls who are missing or have been murdered.

As a result of the RCMP’s actions, states the documents, BigEagle and members of the class action suit say they have suffered and continue to suffer damages including physical, psychological and emotional harm, suicidal ideation, loss of income, opportunity and loss of enjoyment of life.

The class is also claiming they have sustained certain damages, losses and expenses for various medical and rehabilitation treatments.

The Canadian Press

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