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Politics Missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry hampered by federal bureaucracy: chief commissioner

Marion Buller, Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (shown in this July 6 photo), and fellow commissioners Michèle Audette, Qajaq Robinson and Brian Eyolfson appeared before the Senate aboriginal peoples committee to address questions about whether the inquiry has the capacity to fulfill its goals.

Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The head of the problem-plagued commission that is examining why so many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada says the inquiry's work has been hampered by the rules of the federal bureaucracy.

But Marion Buller told a Senate committee on Wednesday night that, despite concerns about the slow pace of progress and the "daunting task" that lies ahead, the commission has been making progress.

"In fulfilling its mandate, the national inquiry is subject to the structures of working within the federal government. It has to adhere to the human resources, information technology and contracting rules that apply to all areas of the federal government," Ms. Buller said.

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"This national inquiry is not alone in finding these rules frustrating. Constructing the national inquiry was very time-consuming," she said. "Simultaneously, stakeholders were expecting urgent engagement and attention to the matter that so deeply concerned them."

Ms. Buller and fellow commissioners Michèle Audette, Qajaq Robinson and Brian Eyolfson appeared before the Senate aboriginal peoples committee to address questions about whether the inquiry has the capacity to fulfill its goals.

Announced in August, 2016 by the federal Liberal government, the inquiry has been mired in controversy, accused of poor communication, moving too slowly, and failing to provide sufficient support to traumatized Indigenous women and families sharing their stories. Several key staff members have also resigned, including one of its five appointed commissioners.

But Ms. Buller assured senators that the commission is on track and that, despite many challenges, the staff, offices, technology and networks are now in place to deal with the substance of its work.

In addition, said Ms. Buller, the inquiry has analyzed 100 reports about violence against Indigenous women containing more than 1,200 recommendations. There has been one public hearing and one hearing with an expert panel. And commissioners have met both collectively and individually with survivors, family members of Indigenous women and girls, experts, academics and others.

"Much of this work – developing policy, hiring and training staff, reviewing and analyzing reports – has gone on behind the scenes but we are confident that this time has been well spent," Ms. Buller said. "This has been a difficult year and for many people, our progress has been too slow. But we wanted to do this right because we know there are risks associated with doing this work quickly and superficially."

Many Indigenous groups and families of missing and murdered women spent years lobbying for an inquiry to explore the root causes of the tragedy and to propose measures to reduce the deaths and violence. A 2014 report by the RCMP identified nearly 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who disappeared or were slain in recent decades.

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The senators told the commissioners that they have heard many concerns, especially about a lack of information.

Senator Dennis Patterson said people in Nunavut, where he is from, have told him they do not know much about the commission's work. They do not know where hearings will be held or how people can participate, he explained.

Senator Kim Pate said she has been inundated with questions that the public asked her to put to the commissioners. There is clearly a need, said Ms. Pate, for more information to be shared with the public about what is happening. She asked Ms. Buller if the inquiry had drafted a plan for its work and how it will deal with marginalized women.

Ms. Buller replied that there is a plan that takes the commission to the end of 2018, when its work is scheduled to end. But the commission is also expected to ask the federal government for an extension.

When Senator Murray Sinclair asked if two years is enough time to do the work, Ms. Buller said: "That is the question, isn't it?" Although the inquiry is committed to complete its task by the end of next year, she said, "we can do a much better job with more time."

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