Another employee at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has left, the latest in a wave of departures.
Breen Ouellette, who was commission counsel at the inquiry’s Vancouver office, posted his resignation on Saturday via Twitter.
“I have experienced a serious loss of confidence in the national inquiry,” he said in the release, adding he believes the federal government “has undermined the independence and impartiality” of the inquiry.
“I cannot remain part of a process which is speeding toward failure,” he said.
His is one of more than 20 departures of staff members who have resigned, quit or been laid off from the inquiry, including one of its commissioners, two executive directors and at least four other lawyers. The inquiry has faced criticism for its lack of communication and a dearth of health supports for affected families, as well as allegations of a toxic work environment.
In a phone interview on Monday, Mr. Ouellette said several factors spurred him to leave: A loss of confidence in leadership of the inquiry, a belief that it needs more time and an independent budget to fully meet its mandate and concern that the inquiry isn’t sufficiently arm’s-length from the federal government. These reasons “are intertwined,” he said.
Mr. Ouellette, who is Métis, said he worked at the inquiry from April, 2017, to June of this year. He is also concerned that the inquiry has not sufficiently included the experiences of Métis women and girls.
The inquiry is tasked with examining the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, whose deaths and disappearances number more than 1,200 in recent decades. Since the inquiry was established in 2016, more than 1,270 witnesses have given testimony.
The inquiry had asked the federal government in March for a two-year extension to complete its work. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, granted a six-month extension in June.
Mr. Ouellette was one of about a dozen commission counsels listed on the legal team of the inquiry’s website. He urged the commissioners to give consent for him to speak freely about the specific reasons for his resignation.
He cited foster care as a key area of concern, saying the inquiry should have the power to examine issues such as “improper and illegal foster-care apprehensions” without government interference.
In an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail, the inquiry confirmed Mr. Ouellette resigned on June 21. Executive director Jennifer Moore Rattray said the inquiry “remains independent and impartial,” and that several new employees have joined the inquiry in recent months. “As with all organizations, staffing does not remain constant, especially in an environment dealing with difficult subject matter where many staff work extended hours.”
Mr. Ouellette said he didn’t leave because of the long hours, although he worked 19-hour days at some points. “I was committed to this commission. I worked long hard hours and I did the best work I possibly could … but too many things were piling up.”
The inquiry held hearings in Regina last week on police policies and practices. It has until April 30, 2019, to submit its final report.