With its self-imposed Christmas deadline come and gone, the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls says it is still working on a request for an extension from the federal government.
While it won’t say why it missed its deadline target, apparently a request is still in the works.
“We do not take this extension request lightly,” said spokesperson Shaylen Smith, “and we are working diligently to deliver our request to Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau) early in 2018.”
Smith made the comments in an email after APTN News requested an interview with Chief Commissioner Marion Buller.
Buller was not made available for an interview.
Buller told APTN on Dec. 8 the request would be on the government’s desk before the holiday break.
Smith said the email response was on behalf of all four inquiry commissioners, writing:
“We have been entrusted with a sacred responsibility and we only have one chance to get it right. That is why we are in the process of consulting with the National Family Advisory Circle, National Indigenous Organizations, and other valued stakeholders. We will continue to listen to the advice and guidance given to us so that we can continue to move forward in a good way.”
Smith noted public hearings kept commissioners busy well into December.
(Chief Commissioner Marion Buller talking with APTN after addressing the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in December. Photo: APTN)
But it was Buller who gave notice as early as last May that more time and money were needed to investigate why hundreds of Indigenous women and girls were missing and murdered across Canada.
Buller told APTN that if the inquiry did not get an extension, the results from the inquiry’s work would not be as in-depth as it needed to be.
The deadline for the two-year, $53.9-million federal probe is October 2018.
Buller told APTN in an interview that she’d like another two years added to the inquiry’s term but have not specified a new dollar amount.
However, the members of at least two families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls say the inquiry should be suspended.
“I want it to be stopped – that Buller needs to be fired and those commissioners replaced,” said John Fox of Peterborough, Ont.
“They were supposed to ask for an extension before Christmas, which they never did. I know that. And so, that’s another disappointment all the way around.”
Fox’s daughter Cheyenne Fox died in 2013 after plunging 24 floors off the balcony of a Toronto condo building.
He has not yet testified before the inquiry but addressed Buller at the AFN’s SCA in Ottawa in December.
“I don’t support an extension unless Buller resigns,” added Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, who also had harsh words for Buller at the AFN event.
“This is typical. There’s too much dysfunction.”
Fox and Wabano-Iahtail weren’t the only ones at the AFN SCA who criticized Buller and asked that she step down.
(John Fox, right, and Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, left, address Buller at the AFN SCA in December. Photo: APTN)
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North said she was “repulsed” that Buller was at the assembly.
After, chiefs voted 48-15 on Resolution 78 in favour of an extension – but added that Buller needed to step down.
Read the resolution here: Resolution #78
They also voted in favour of expanding the inquiry to include police practices and policies.
It is not clear whether AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde has signed and sent the resolution to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Buller told APTN she has no intention of stepping down and remains at the helm of the troubled exercise, which has seen nearly two dozen employees leave and three hearings postponed.
Meanwhile, there has been no reaction from the Trudeau government, which called the inquiry after being elected. A spokesperson for the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations confirmed there had been no contact from the inquiry.
On Wednesday the inquiry reopened its offices after closing them over the Christmas break.