Skip to main content

The family of Nicole Daniels speaks to commissioner Michelle Audette at the opening day of hearings at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Winnipeg on Oct. 16, 2017.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is a long way from "starting over or scrapping" the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The federal government is monitoring the work of the federally funded commission and its staff to ensure they have the ability to do their jobs, Trudeau said in an interview this week.

"We are a long way from ... starting over or scrapping it," Trudeau told The Canadian Press. "We are certainly alert to the challenges that are being faced with something that was always going to be very, very difficult."

Trudeau also said he's spoken with a number of individuals and family members who told their stories to the commission and are pleased with the approach.

"I think we know that the public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has to keep families at the centre of what it is doing."

Last week, the inquiry confirmed the departure of Debbie Reid as its second executive director, but would not comment further, citing personnel issues.

The staffing change will not disrupt work of the commission as it eyes a formal extension application for money and time to do its work, officials said in a statement.

Director of operations Calvin Wong has stepped in to take over as executive director on an interim basis.

Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she is concerned by the amount of turnover at the commission, fearing it could distract from the work at hand. But the independence of the commission is crucial, and the government won't interfere, she said.

Both opposition parties say it is high time for Ottawa to take additional steps to ensure the commission is on the right track, especially given the fact the commission is widely expected to ask for a deadline extension.

Trudeau's government has currently earmarked two years and $53.8 million for the study, aimed at examining root causes of violence toward Indigenous women and girls.

A number of survivors, families and Indigenous leaders have urged the federal government to formally restart the process due to concerns over operational matters with the inquiry including the departures of a number of staff.

In December, a special gathering of chiefs hosted by the Assembly of First Nations also approved a resolution calling for the federal government to reset the inquiry by replacing the chief commissioner, Marion Buller.

It said a new head should be named through a process of full engagement with Indigenous survivors and families.

Bennett did not comment on the specifics of the resolution when it passed.

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is calling for the creation of a national police force to address concerns from families. Chief commissioner Marion Buller says the inquiry has no police branch.

The Canadian Press