Two additional staff members are leaving the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the latest in a long string of departures.
Over the weekend, chief commissioner Marion Buller announced that lead commission counsel Susan Vella has left the beleaguered inquiry "effective immediately." Director of research, Aimeé Craft, meanwhile, will depart later this fall. In recent months, the inquiry had already seen the resignation of several of its key staffers – including one of its five commissioners in July – against a backdrop of dwindling support.
"The focus has been on the inquiry dysfunction and not on the families, not on the women and the girls," said Maggie Cywink, whose sister Sonya Cywink was murdered in 1994. "It's failing miserably, and it has to stop." She called on senior leaders of the inquiry, including its five commissioners, to step down.
"It just seems to be tumbling down a hill … they're just causing so much damage."
Since its launch last year, the inquiry has been the subject of repeated complaints from families such as Ms. Cywink's, who say the process has been mired in delays and inadequate communication. Turmoil within the organization, including resignations of staffers, has only exacerbated matters.
An inquiry spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
In her letter announcing the departures, Ms. Buller said the group "remains committed to meeting all of the mandate's obligations and more." She emphasized the work that Ms. Vella and Ms. Craft have done, on which remaining staff can build.
The inquiry will hold its third round of community hearings later this month. Late last week, Ms. Buller announced the appointment of former Assembly of First Nations adviser Debbie Reid as executive director, after her predecessor, Michèle Moreau, resigned in June.
But critics say the inquiry process, and the chaos surrounding it, has only caused additional harm.
"Families are saying to themselves, 'I'm going through my own trauma. Why should I have to deal with the trauma that's going on and the dysfunction that's going on – with something that's supposed to be good for us?'" Ms. Cywink said.
Others have echoed similar concerns. In July, the Ontario Native Women's Association sent an open letter to commissioners withdrawing support for the inquiry. Other groups too have called for a "reset" of the process.
"Why do people keep leaving so quickly?" asked Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, whose Manitoba advocacy organization, Keewatinowi Okimakanak represents about 30 northern First Nations groups.
"To me, it adds to what I see as leadership problems … it's becoming clear that not all the right people are leading this inquiry process."
Ms. North Wilson said communication has been especially frustrating. She said her group has been trying to get clear information in a timely fashion. "Even with the help we have, we have problems getting answers sometimes," she said.
"If we're having problems as an organization, I don't know how families are expected to feel."
Ms. North Wilson said she remains hopeful that the inquiry can yield some success. "But I'm also leery that it's possible at this point," she said.