Families of victims, Indigenous leaders and advocates for those who have lost loved ones have written to the head of Canada's inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women saying they fear the inquiry is in serious trouble.
The letter comes after months of concern expressed by families and others that the $58.3-million investigation into the systemic causes of the violence, a process that was the result of years of lobbying by Indigenous groups and a campaign promise of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is behind schedule and that information from the commission conducting the inquiry has been sparse.
Just last week, it was learned that most families of those who were murdered or who have gone missing will not be invited to attend hearings until the fall. That testimony was supposed to have started this spring and there are now questions about whether families' voices can be reflected in an interim report that is due Nov. 1.
The letter to chief commissioner Marion Buller, which was posted Monday to the website of Indigenous artist Christi Belcourt – a long-time advocate for the environment and Indigenous people – says concerned people across the country are "loudly raising alarms that the inquiry is in serious trouble."
The letter's signatories, which include more than 50 people and organizations, say it is clear that the approach of the inquiry must be "fundamentally shifted" and immediate action must be taken to mitigate the damage.
"We are deeply concerned with the continued lack of communication that is causing anxiety, frustration and confusion, and with disappointment in this long-awaited process," the letter to Ms. Buller says. "We request that you, as leader of this inquiry, substantially rework your approach in order to regain trust and ensure that families are no longer feeling re-traumatized in this process."
The letter asks the chief commissioner to respond to the concerns by May 22.
A spokeswoman for the inquiry said Monday morning that the inquiry would be releasing a statement in response to the letter later in the day.
A spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, who announced the inquiry shortly after the Liberal government was elected in the fall of 2015, said in response to the letter that the minister believes enough time and resources have been made available for the inquiry to do its work.
A 2014 report by the RCMP said the force had identified nearly 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who disappeared or were slain in recent decades, and some critics suggest the Mounties' list is far from complete. Families and advocates want to know why Indigenous women and girls are victims of violence far more often than other Canadians.
The letter cites issues with a lack of ceremonial protocols at the few events the inquiry has held to date and it says the process, which was supposed to be focused on victims, has already left some families "re-traumatized" and it questions whether appropriate supports will be available to them in the future.
It says the time frame, which calls a full report to be delivered in the fall of 2018, is too short and an extension should be requested along with the deadline for applications for standing. It urges the hiring of a managing director or chairperson who is one of Canada's recognized Indigenous experts .
And it says "the disorganized, haphazard and insufficient communications from the inquiry has harmed its credibility and caused confusion and frustration among families and others who have a sincere desire to see the inquiry succeed."
"It is with heavy hearts that we sign this letter," the signatories write. "This is an opportunity that will not come again, and none of us can afford for it to fail."