(A screenshot of the #MMIW news conference in Ottawa Tuesday. The commission’s news conference broadcast went sideways for a time during the event.)
Commissioners leading Canada’s national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women walked into their first news conference wanting to reassure families but left with social media buzzing over a poorly produced event.
People on Facebook and Twitter complained about having a hard time hearing and seeing the press conference in Ottawa.
The Facebook Live broadcast by interim communications director Sue Montgomery was muffled, shaky, and, for a time, sideways.
Not a strong debut for an inquiry giving a long-awaited update on its past five months of work.
“Headline should be ‘Failed Start hits another glitch’ #MMIW, ‘cause it hasn’t even started yet,’” Rachel Ann Snow said on Facebook.
The Indigenous consultant from Alberta is following the inquiry’s progress closely and sharing her fears online: “OMG so many red flags,” Snow added.
Is it me or is the #MMIWG enquiry already sounding like it's going off the rails?
— Jae (@RadicallySoft) February 7, 2017
In Ottawa, the five commissioners faced a large room filled with mostly empty chairs. Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said on Instagram she was there.
Chief commissioner Marion Buller spoke first, acknowledging the delay in sharing the inquiry’s plans.
“We’re very much aware of the impatience and the frustration felt by families and organizations,” she said.
“We share those same feelings because there’s nothing that we’d like to do more than to get the hearings underway. But we also know we have to do the hearings and our work in a thoughtful and purposeful way that, of course, is culturally appropriate and well informed.”
Buller, an Aboriginal judge from British Columbia, promised that families will be able to address commissioners in their own way – and not in an antagonistic courtroom setting like B.C.’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry into serial killer Robert Pickton.
Buller said the inquiry, promised and funded with $53.8-million by Justin Trudeau’s government, will start to hear testimony this spring and that Canadians should not expect to see hearings like those that unfold in courtrooms.
Marion Buller says the inquiry will provide a way for Indigenous people to tell their own stories in their own way.
Susan Vella, the lead counsel for the study, said that, from a legal standpoint, the national inquiry will be unlike anything the country has seen.
She says the process must respect Indigenous customs and traditions.
But Vella nor Buller would give information on what families are desperate to hear – where, when and how often will the hearings be held.
“Oh dear, I sure hope for the sake of the families, that whatever is going on behind the scenes, won’t hurt them (us) more as the national inquiry gets underway soon,” Sharon Johnson said on Facebook.
Johnson’s 18-year-old sister, Sandy Johnson, was murdered outside Thunder Bay, Ont., in 1992 in what it still an unsolved case.
As Johnson said, there does appear to be turmoil behind the scenes. Last week, the inquiry’s director of communications was let go.
Michael Hutchinson, a former APTN national news host, producer, tweeted the news on Feb. 3 with the hashtag “#bandofficed.”
Hutchinson refused to answer questions on his Facebook page about why he was terminated but posted this statement: “I sincerely hope the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will be able to make a better future for Indigenous families. It’s a heartache that needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
“It’s time for the Laws of the Pipe to shine brighter than the Legal System of the Pen. I apologize to the families and everyone who would have liked to hear more from me over the past two months.”
Hutchinson, who has worked for two other commissions, is known for his deep knowledge of Aboriginal issues, claims and treaties in Canada. He declined to comment when contacted by a reporter.
The commissioners ended the news conference saying they will hold another public event, but didn’t say when it would take place.
— with files from the Canadian Press