Com­mis­sioner re­signs from in­quiry into miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

A com­mis­sioner on the in­quiry into miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women has an­nounced she will re­sign at the end of this week — a de­par­ture that raises new ques­tions among ad­vo­cates about how much faith they can put in the much-an­tic­i­pated process.

Mar­i­lyn Poitras, one of five com­mis­sion­ers named by the Lib­eral govern­ment last sum­mer to ex­am­ine the root causes of vi­o­lence against Indige­nous women and girls, ex­plained her de­ci­sion in a let­ter to Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

“It is clear to me that I am un­able to per­form my du­ties as a com­mis­sioner with the process de­signed in its cur­rent struc­ture,” the let­ter said, not­ing she will step aside as of July 15.

Poitras’ res­ig­na­tion comes shortly af­ter the de­par­ture of the com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Michele Moreau, and is fur­ther ev­i­dence “the whole in­quiry is in jeop­ardy,” said Sheila North Wil­son, a grand chief of an or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing First Na­tions in north­ern Man­i­toba.

“I main­tain that the chief com­mis­sioner needs to re­sign to re­store any kind of faith among the fam­i­lies and sur­vivors of miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women,” she said. “We shouldn’t be worried about de­lays. We should be worried about get­ting the process right.”

In an in­ter­view, lead com­mis­sioner Mar­ion Buller thanked Poitras for her con­tri­bu­tions, adding the in­quiry is still pre­pared to move ahead with its work as planned, in­clud­ing nine hear­ings this fall be­gin­ning in Septem­ber in Thun­der Bay, Ont.

“I want to re­as­sure fam­i­lies and sur­vivors that we will con­tinue to work to­wards hear­ings — hear­ing from them, hear­ing about their sto­ries, at the same time re­spect­ing Indige­nous laws and tra­di­tional knowl­edge,” she said.

“This res­ig­na­tion is not go­ing to change the work that we are do­ing in terms of pre­par­ing the right path, the good path to hear from fam­i­lies and sur­vivors.”

It will be up to the Lib­eral govern­ment to de­cide if a new com­mis­sioner will be named to re­place Poitras, she added.

Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett wouldn’t say Tues­day whether one will be cho­sen.

She said she met with the ex­ist­ing group on Mon­day, and re­mains con­fi­dent in their abil­ity to do the work re­quired, but bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion on how they’ll do it will be essen­tial.

“They re­ally do have the vi­sion, the val­ues, the tools and the plan to get this work done,” she said.

The com­mis­sion has faced cri­tiques from fam­i­lies frus­trated at the pace of con­sul­ta­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Four staffers have re­signed in re­cent months.

As­sem­bly of First Na­tions Na­tional Chief Perry Bel­le­garde said he’s in­vited the com­mis­sion­ers to at­tend the AFN’s up­com­ing gen­eral as­sem­bly in or­der to speak di­rectly to those af­fected by the com­mis­sion’s work.

“We’re very con­cerned about this res­ig­na­tion be­cause the work of the na­tional in­quiry is too im­por­tant and we want to see it suc­ceed for the fam­i­lies,” he said in a state­ment.

The fed­eral govern­ment gave the com­mis­sion­ers a bud­get of about $53.9 mil­lion and asked them to com­plete their work by the end of 2018, with an in­terim re­port due in Novem­ber.

Buller has al­ready in­di­cated more time and fund­ing will be re­quired but a for­mal ap­pli­ca­tion has yet to be filed to the fed­eral govern­ment. She could not say Tues­day when the re­quest will be made.

CP PHOTO

Mar­i­lyn Poitras says she will re­sign at the end of the week as one of the com­mis­sion­ers of the Na­tional In­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and Girls.

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