(Commissioner Michele Audette, left, and Chief Commissioner Marion Buller answer questions Wednesday in Sasktatoon. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN)
The public may be losing confidence in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, but commissioners say the families aren’t.
“Absolutely not. It’s anything but,” said chief commissioner Marion Buller. “They want us to go ahead and continue with our good work, and they’re very supportive.”
Commissioner Michele Audette said families are encouraging them to keep going.
“I hope that you stick there, I hope that you stay there because my statement (being) worth something is very important,” Audette said.
Audette and Buller made the comments Wednesday at the start of the second day of community hearings in Saskatoon.
Watch Shirley McLean’s story on day 2 of the Saskatoon hearings here.
They said the turnout has been strong for the sixth stop of the inquiry looking into hundreds of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada.
“There are some common themes of poverty, of racism,” said Buller, “but there are also local issues as well that we’re hearing. For example, in Edmonton, there were issues regarding local policing.
“Here, we’re not hearing that same level so far.”
The often teary testimony of grief and loss has been playing out while inquiry staff tender resignations or are fired.
So far about 22 people have left, including three lawyers – one of whom quit on opening day here.
Buller wouldn’t comment on “personnel matters” but said the inquiry remained on track.
“I can tell you with great confidence that the work that we’re doing will continue in a good way across Canada, that the real news here this week is what the families and survivors are telling us.
“And we intend to move forward.”
Audette acknowledged family members had voiced concerns about the staff turnover.
“I made sure that I called them all of them who called me or got in touch with me, and same with my colleagues to explain the situation, to reassure them and making sure that we will and continue to honour the work that we’re doing with them.”
The termination of one employee left people in northern Saskatchewan in the lurch said Cree NDP-MP Georgina Jolibois.
Jolibois said her office is working with a group trying to bring a hearing to Prince Albert similar to the statement gathering session in the northern Manitoba community of Norway House earlier this month.
“One of the concerns that I have is that this will delay the inquiry coming north,” the Indigenous Affairs critic said in a telephone interview. “We’re hoping to get that back on track.”
Commissioners were questioned by the Commons Indigenous Affairs Committee in September before so many employees departed.
Jolibois said she’d like to speak to them further about the impact the job losses are having on their mandate and hear what kind of support or therapy witnesses were getting after their traumatic testimonies after fired health managers said after-care was lacking.
“I would like to call them back at some point but I’m not going to interrupt their hearings,” she said.
However, she said the Liberal majority on the committee was blocking any attempts to discuss the inquiry.
Jolibois said that same Liberal block was preventing the committee from calling officials with the Privy Council Office, which handles the financial logistics for the inquiry.
And, has been blamed by commissioners for delays in approving funding and hiring.