MONCTON, N.B. – The mother of a 16-year-old Aboriginal girl murdered in northern New Brunswick says Canada needs tougher laws.
“If you murder someone, you shouldn’t be allowed out,” Pam Fillier said at the start of two days of hearings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Moncton, N.B.
Fillier’s daughter, Hilary Bonnell, disappeared from Esgenoopetitj First Nation on Sept. 5, 2009, triggering an extensive search that gripped the Aboriginal community.
The girl’s 32-year-old cousin, Curtis Bonnell, was arrested on Nov. 8, 2009, and led police to her burial site the next day. Bonnell told police he sexually assaulted Hilary and killed her. He was later convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
On Tuesday, Fillier said she wants to help prevent similar incidents from happening again. She was emotional as she spoke about her daughter, saying the pain doesn’t go away.
“It doesn’t end when you bury your child. It just starts another kind of pain,” she said.
Fillier said she wants tougher laws to punish people who commit such crimes.
“If we don’t get tougher laws, these monsters keep getting let out. That’s another child in danger,” she said.
Much of the day was spent hearing from a Knowledge Keepers panel — three elders who detailed the history of Indigenous people in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and issues that have arisen, particularly the loss of status by Indigenous women who married non-Aboriginal men.
“The loss of status is loss of community,” said Judy Clark, adding that Indigenous men marrying non-native women kept their status.
Imelda Perley, a member of the Red Shawl Campaign, said that treatment has put up walls that need to be removed.
The inquiry is expected to hear from at least 20 people, including a youth panel Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s very important that we hear from the youth — not just the impact, but what are they recommending for a better Canada?” said commissioner Michele Audette.
The federal government set up the inquiry in December 2015 to address the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The commissioners began the inquiry in September 2016 and were hoping to issue a final report by the end of 2018, but the commission is widely expected to ask for a deadline extension.
More than 700 people have shared their stories with the inquiry so far.