The chief commissioner of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women says she has no plans to resign and insists the process is on track despite recent staff departures and critics' concerns about progress to date.
"Things are not drifting," chief commissioner Marion Buller said when she was asked after giving an update on the inquiry about suggestions she step down.
"We have to put this in the right context," she added.
"We started on Sept. 1 – four commissioners and myself and a piece of paper, our terms of reference. In eight months, we hired staff, we opened offices, we put life to our terms of reference and we held our first hearing. In my view, that's lightning speed."
Asked about recent staff departures, Ms. Buller said some turnover is expected and it would not affect the inquiry's work.
In recent months, several staff members – including executive director Michèle Moreau – have resigned.
Ms. Buller provided the update, including a list of planned community visits and hearings, amid criticism that the inquiry has not done enough to communicate with families of missing and murdered women and girls. The inquiry, which was part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election platform before he took office in 2015, officially began on Sept. 1, 2016.
In defending the inquiry, Ms. Buller cited recent hearings in Whitehorse and planned community visits that are to begin this month in Thunder Bay.
Sheila North Wilson, who this month suggested Ms. Buller should step down, remains unconvinced.
"She didn't even acknowledge the real issues around calls for her resignation – and that's the importance of acknowledging families' fears and frustrations," said Ms. North Wilson, Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
So far, many Indigenous leaders, activists and families have felt excluded from the inquiry process, Ms. North Wilson said.
"They're professing they've done a lot of work. Well, we haven't seen it. We're still trying to figure out what they're doing," she said.
Some family members who attended the Vancouver update voiced support for Ms. Buller and the inquiry.
"To be honest, if they happened to replace the commissioners and start over again, I would want nothing to do with the inquiry," said Marlene Jack, whose sister Doreen Jack, along with her husband, Ronald, and the couple's two sons, went missing in 1989.
The family is believed to have been travelling on British Columbia's Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears, when they disappeared.
"I appreciate everything these commissioners are doing right now. And they have done a lot already," Ms. Jack said.
"I need them to hear my sister's story. There is a long history going on with this, and a lot of families are hurting," she added.
Lorelei Williams, a Vancouver-based advocate, welcomed the update.
"It's very important for them to communicate with us and for it to be transparent. I think there needs to be more transparency, but I'm grateful for this," Ms. Williams said.
Ms. Williams said she still wondered about staff departures, saying she would have expected people who signed up for the inquiry to stick with it.
"When turnovers happen, it kind of delays the process," Ms. Williams said.
Ms. Buller also said the inquiry would likely need more time.
"It's clear, we can't do the type of work we want to do, and should do, in the time period government has given us."
The commissioners have not made a formal request for an extension, saying that would require an "in-depth analysis, of not only time, but money."
The inquiry is scheduled to submit an interim report in the fall of 2017 and a final report by the end of 2018. It was allotted a budget of $53.9-million over two years.