Chiefs call for changes to inquiry
First Nations Chiefs gathered at the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Regina passed a resolution late Thursday calling for changes to the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The resolution calls upon the federal government to reset and change the mandate and process of the inquiry.
A second resolution calling for an overhaul and for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to replace the commissioners
did not pass.
Prior to the Thursday’s vote, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the leaders were divided on what to do about the troubled inquiry.
Some want a reset of the commission while others want resignations from the four commissioners, Bellegarde said in an interview with The Canadian Press prior to a vote on resolutions at a Regina meeting of chiefs.
Bellegarde is steering a middle course, saying the commission needs to focus all of its energy on ensuring the stories of families are front and centre, adding it is critical for the commission to improve communications.
“Our chiefs are divided,” he said. “Some want a total reset, some want to start fresh, and then there are others that are saying, ‘You know, we should be empowering those commissioners, we should be supporting those commissioners, we should be praying for those commissioners because they have a tough job, they’re dealing with hurt and pain.’”
The inquiry has spent weeks fending off criticism from some families who have loudly expressed concern about the process and the recent resignations of senior staffers and a commissioner, Marilyn Poitras.
Two of the remaining commissioners — Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson — addressed some of those concerns directly Wednesday night at the AFN meeting.
There are also family members encouraging the commissioners, Audette said Wednesday.
“There’s a silent group … that are saying, ‘Stay, don’t give up,’” she told reporters. “We hear that, too.”
Another theme that has emerged at the meeting is concern about police failing to conduct adequate investigations into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada, Bellegarde said Thursday, adding policing must be a priority during the course of the commission’s work.
“The families wanted to make sure, the chiefs wanted to make sure, that the terms of reference for the missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry (are) broad enough and expansive enough to review ... police services that impact our people on daily basis,” he said.
“As national chief, I would encourage the commissioners to use their powers and push the envelope ... to ensure that all police services are reviewed, that they questioned, and hopefully some recommendations brought forward to fix what obviously is not working.”
The national inquiry can and will consider the conduct of policing services and policies across Canada in 14 federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions, commission spokesperson Bernee Bolton said in a statement.
Depending on the province, there are differences in the powers of the national inquiry to consider police conduct, she added, noting there is a forensic team currently reviewing police files.
There’s a silent group … that are saying, ‘Stay, don’t give up.’
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde wants commissioners to ‘push the envelope.’