A national inquiry reviewing the causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls has finally made good on a promise to ask for more money and time.
The remaining four commissioners signed a five-page letter to the federal minister in charge of the probe Tuesday – after first saying they’d have the request in by Christmas.
So while the formal request to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett is not a surprise, some of the reasons for seeking another two years and $50 million are eye-opening.
Not the least of which is the revelation the inquiry expects to run a deficit for the next fiscal year.
“We tried to hit the ground running and underestimated the infrastructure and resources required,” the commissioners say in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by APTN News.
“There are several key expenditures that were not included in government’s original costing.”
The expenditures are not explained in the letter but they don’t seem to deter Bennett. The minister said in a statement her government was committed to finding answers to the ongoing violence.
And, she said action would soon be taken on recommendations the inquiry offered in its interim report in November.
“The families of these women and girls needs answers to the systemic and institutional failures that lead to the murder of so many Indigenous women,” Bennett said.
It was what Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, wanted to hear.
“We want to ensure that this national inquiry does the best work it can possibly do,” she said in a telephone interview.
Joe said commissioners showed her and others a comprehensive work plan last month to help eliminate fears about ongoing internal dysfunction.
“This is a plan that we wish had been prepared at the start of this whole national inquiry.”
The inquiry has been plagued by staff turnover – including the resignation of a Metis commissioner – and key firings. It has lost two executive directors and senior lawyers.
However, it sounds like it has been working behind the scenes to calm those waters and show it can get the results survivors, families and interest groups want.
“We did have unprecedented solidarity on this issue in regards to all of the leadership in Manitoba, including the province of Manitoba, to move forward with the inquiry,” said Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
Dumas says that support should come with some strings.
“The commission has not told parties how they would be carrying out Part 2, which are the expert hearings and the institutional hearings,” he said.
“Canada should consider – if it extends the time – to ensure that it comes with a plan to properly inform families and survivors and parties with standing on what those next steps will be.”
Pauktuutit, the Inuit women’s organization, also wants more information from the inquiry.
“We’ve had our frustrations,” said president Rebecca Kudloo. “Poor communication, and our recommendations don’t seem to be taken too seriously sometimes.”
Kudloo will pass her board’s opposition to an extension onto Bennett. She says her directors feel another 24 months is too long to wait for solutions.
“We have the highest rates of family violence in Canada,” she said.
Bennett says she will survey “families, Indigenous partners, provincial and territorial counterparts, and my Cabinet colleagues” before advising the prime minister on the request.
Chief commissioner Marion Buller says the inquiry can conclude its work by the original deadline of December 2018, but it won’t be as detailed as she would like.
“With an extension, the national inquiry will use the additional time to reach out to vulnerable populations, such as Indigenous women and girls who are in prisons and penitentiaries… are homeless…are involved in the sex trade…are being trafficked, or those who are living in violent circumstances,” she said in a conference call with reporters.
They could easily double the number of witnesses and deepen the information they receive, she added.
“The interest in participating is increasing every day.”
So far, commissioners have heard from about 1,000 people at 11 public hearings and five statement gathering events.
But they still want to hear from more, specifically members of the Metis Nation and the 2SLGBTQ communities, Buller said.
“We don’t want to do a superficial job,” she added, “because that will reflect on our recommendations.”
Buller and Commissioner Michele Audette listed a number of areas that need further research to help inform their recommendations. The result, they said, would be something all levels of government could adopt.
Finally, they said they would change their leadership structure to one suggested by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak last week, which will see the four of them co-lead the inquiry going forward.
“Leaders talked about a compromise with us,” said Audette. “We listened carefully (to) their concerns.”