The head of the much-maligned inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women isn’t resigning. And though she plans to push forward, on Thursday Commissioner Marion Buller-Bennett admitted publicly for the first time she needs more than the two years set out for the inquiry.
“It’s clear: we can’t do the type of work, the kind of work, we want to do in the time period the government has given us,” the commissioner and First Nations judge said at a press conference announcing upcoming fall inquiry dates across Canada.
Buller-Bennett has been under increasing pressure, as the list of concerns and problems with the inquiry she leads gets longer.
Families of missing and murdered women and girls have said they won’t participate, and there have been numerous calls for the process to hit pause due to lack of communication and bad planning. In May, the inquiry announced it would push family testimony back to the fall. As the months of critique slog on, the inquiry has shed staff members: three employees and the inquiry’s executive director resigned this month alone.
“I think she needs to go,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson told CBC this week. “It needs a restart.”
Though Buller-Bennet told the press conference she expects there will be “some changes”, her resignation is not among them.
“We received a lot of advice of course from families of survivors,” she said, after an initial set of hearings in Whitehorse last month. “For some families it was very important to swear or affirm to tell the truth, that was important to them, to others it was a very uncomfortable process. So in preparing families, we’re going to have to ask them what they feel comfortable doing.”
The inquiry’s first interim report is due Nov. 1, 2017, and its final report has a deadline of Nov. 1, 2018. That final deadline would come a year before the next federal election. Buller-Bennett has not yet asked the government for a formal extension because the inquiry is first doing an in depth analysis of what is required and what it would cost.
“The difficulty is this — we still need to comply with various legislation across Canada: federal legislation as well as individual provincial and territorial legislation regarding evidence, exhibits, things of that nature,” she continued. “There are some things we can’t get away from entirely, but we can certainly adapt.”