Some families have hired a lawyer to help them navigate the bureaucracy within the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Suzan Fraser is a Toronto lawyer who represents 18 families across Canada seeking standing.
“We sent our application to counsel for the inquiry today,” Fraser said Monday. “We’ve asked for a response as soon as they’re able.”
The application comes on the eve of hearings in Saskatoon where the inquiry said three of four commissioners expect to hear from 40 witnesses over three days of community hearings.
It also comes amid inner turmoil after the recent firings of three employees – one of which was the community liaison in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“I’m worried about my people,” said Morene Gabriel, the former manager of health for the region.
“There are over 100 families already registered for Saskatchewan.”
APTN News estimates there have been 22 resignations or firings since the inquiry was announced in August 2016.
That puts enormous pressure on remaining staffers to handle the growing load.
The inquiry said on its website it can accommodate up to another 40 witnesses in Saskatoon.
But Fraser said her clients want greater certainty after some of them were unable to testify.
“These families are in communication with each other,” Fraser said in a telephone interview from Toronto. “They deserve to come together to make the process better.”
Fraser said it only makes sense for families to have standing at an Inquiry looking into what contributed to the disappearances and deaths of their loved ones.
Especially during the next phase, where front-line, police and justice officials will be testifying.
She said her coalition of families initially called for “a hard reset” of the inquiry.
When that didn’t happen it developed this Plan B.
“It was surprising to me that no families have standing,” said Fraser, who has represented families at other proceedings relating to the deaths of vulnerable people. “Loved ones have direct and substantial interest.”
The inquiry does make funding available through its terms of reference to pay legal fees, Fraser added. However, the deadline to seek standing expired in May.
“We’ve appealed to the chief commissioner that these people have direct and substantial interest in standing,” she said.
Meanwhile, another coalition that already has standing stepped forward Monday to oppose the inquiry’s bid for an extension – at least until it submits a detailed work plan and schedule of expert and institutional hearings.
“…We have serious concerns about the direction of the Inquiry, its capacity to undertake the necessary systemic review, and the conditions of participation for civil society groups like ours, that are crucial to informed outcomes,” said Pam Palmater, the chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto, in a release.
Palmater is part of the coalition, which is called Feminist Alliance for International Action.
It wants commissioners to analyze the violence against Indigenous women and girls and the treatment of families against the human rights framework of governments and police agencies.