Ombudsman’s Statement on Missing and Missed: Report of the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations by the Honourable Gloria J. Epstein
In light of the current climate and the urgency to combat systemic racism, discrimination and barriers in all forms, as emphasized by the Honourable Gloria Epstein in ‘Missing and Missed: Report of the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations,’ my Office fully supports the implementation of all 151 recommendations in the handling of missing person investigations.
The findings in ‘Missing and Missed’ indicate that systemic discrimination contributed to the failings of Toronto Police missing person investigations, and this is particularly true for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, new immigrants/refugees, and racialized communities. It is our responsibility to dismantle barriers perpetuated by colonialism, sexism, heterosexism, and racism because 2SLGBTQ+ individuals and Indigenous women and girls experience some of the highest rates of violence in our communities. We must commit to eliminating systemic discrimination in accordance with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Calls for Justice1.
Missing person cases are especially difficult for loved ones and their communities to cope with. The unknowns and uncertainties, sense of loss, and worry by those left behind creates continuous stress and undue hardship. Families, friends, and communities deserve a sensitive and professional multi-disciplinary response. Taking a victim-centred approach is essential to all missing person cases, as everyone affected must be supported.
Although well intentioned, too often police services are focused primarily on the investigation. This approach is not victim-centred, and results in families and those affected by missing person cases receiving little to no support. Families with a missing loved one have voiced that the primary reason for their dissatisfaction with police services is the lack of timely action, sensitivity, and communication. A lack of timely information has been noted as most concerning for families of missing persons. In my view, it is also problematic that family members left behind are not viewed as victims of crime.
As noted by Commissioner Epstein, ‘‘a significant percentage of missing persons will be exposed to the risk that they will become victims of foul play or of other crimes or criminal exploitation.’’ As such, their families and loved ones who report them missing deserve to be treated with dignity, empathy, compassion and a police response that prioritizes these investigations, especially when those who are reported missing are marginalized and vulnerable.
I commend the Honourable Gloria Epstein for encouraging improved supports for victims’ families and those affected by missing person cases in Recommendation 43. In the submission made by my Office, we indicated our support for the provision of ongoing information about the investigation through multidisciplinary teams that provide continuous updates, connection to supports, and use a victim-centred, trauma-informed approach when communicating with families and friends of missing persons. We also highlighted the need for police education with an emphasis on cultural humility. We are pleased that most of OFOVC’s recommendations are addressed in the report.
It is my hope that police agencies throughout Canada commit to sincere reflection on the findings of this report. I strongly recommend that all police leaders and agencies across Canada review the 151 recommendations outlined with a view to updating their own policies and procedures regarding missing person investigations.
I also encourage all Canadians to read the report on ‘Missing and Missed’ and join the call to action in combating systemic discrimination not only within police services, but in every aspect of our lives.
1 (2019) Reclaiming Power and Place: the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Canada. [Web Archive] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lcwaN0028038/.