With in­quiry in chaos, head must step aside

North Bay Nugget - - OPINION - IAN MUL­GREW imul­grew@post­media.com

the Na­tional in­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered indige­nous Women and girls is dy­ing a death of a thou­sand cuts, and it’s high time the chief commissioner stepped aside.

For­mer provin­cial court judge Mar­ion Buller was a well-mean­ing choice, but she lacks the man­age­rial com­pe­tence for the cap­tain’s job.

in the lat­est of a slew of de­par­tures, Wa­neek horn-Miller has quit as direc­tor of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

the for­mer olympian joined an ex­o­dus — ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Michèle Moreau, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions sue Mont­gomery, direc­tor of op­er­a­tions Chan­tale Courcy and tanya Kappo, for­mer man­ager of com­mu­nity re­la­tions.

Mar­i­lyn Poitras, Métis univer­sity of saskatchewan pro­fes­sor, was one of the com­mis­sion­ers who quit with a scathing cri­tique about “the sta­tus quo colo­nial model of hear­ings.”

the com­mis­sion has had one set of hear­ings, post­poned oth­ers and al­ready says it will prob­a­bly need more money — $53.8 mil­lion isn’t enough — and doesn’t ex­pect to meet the dead­line of dec. 31, 2018.

Buller is a mem­ber of the Mistawa­sis First Nation in saskatchewan. in 1994, she was the first indige­nous woman ap­pointed to the B.C. provin­cial bench. she spear­headed the move in 2006 to cre­ate First Na­tions courts. But Buller ap­pears out of her depth.

“i don’t in­tend to re­sign,” she in­sisted last month. “We have to put this in the right con­text. We started on sept. 1, four com­mis­sion­ers and my­self and a piece of pa­per, our terms of ref­er­ence. in eight months, we hired staff, we opened of­fices, we put life to our terms of ref­er­ence and we held our first hear­ing. in my view, that’s light­ning speed.”

Buller is well-in­ten­tioned but she doesn’t have the req­ui­site man­age­rial ex­per­tise and few of the pub­lic re­la­tions skills the job re­quires.

Most of the fam­i­lies and ad­vo­cates, for in­stance, hoped a key com­po­nent of any fi­nal re­port would be an in­dict­ment of po­lice prac­tices and a pre­scrip­tion for re­form.

But there are 14 dif­fer­ent fed­eral, provin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial po­lice ju­ris­dic­tions in Canada, they are out­side the in­quiry’s of­fi­cial man­date and any con­cerns the in­quiry raises will be re­ferred back to them.

Wally op­pal, the for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral and long­time se­nior jus­tice, was sorely tested to con­duct even his one-man in­quiry re­stricted to B.C.

the very women he was in­tended to sup­port pick­eted him for weeks; the main abo­rig­i­nal groups walked away af­fronted.

the B.C. Civil Lib­er­ties as­so­ci­a­tion, Pivot Le­gal so­ci­ety, West Coast Leaf — 15 groups com­plained about be­ing si­lenced, of the com­mis­sion’s fail­ure to call im­por­tant wit­nesses and of in­ves­tiga­tive stones left un­turned.

But op­pal got his job done and his 1,400-page re­port made a host of valu­able recommendations.

Buller finds her­self jug­gling the same hand­fuls of multi-faceted is­sues while un­der in­tense scru­tiny.

op­pal had been a politi­cian who un­der­stood the me­dia and the pres­sures of be­ing in the pub­lic eye. Buller is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it for the first time with­out her ju­di­cial shield.

i think the learn­ing curve of or­ches­trat­ing a five-per­son, cross­coun­try com­mis­sion with such a short man­date has proven too fast and too steep for her.

this in­quiry should have been headed by some­one more pre­pared such as Mary ellen turpel-La­fond, B.C.’s for­mer child ad­vo­cate.

a mem­ber of the Muskeg Cree Nation, turpel-La­fond was the first abo­rig­i­nal woman named to saskatchewan’s provin­cial court.

Carolyn Ben­nett, the fed­eral min­is­ter of indige­nous and north­ern af­fairs, could do worse than ask­ing Buller to sit as a commissioner and re­plac­ing her with turpel-La­fond to re­sus­ci­tate the in­quiry.

Buller should not take it as a de­mo­tion.

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