OTTAWA — The chief commissioner for the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women knows the world is watching her team — and she wants to assure Canadians much is happening behind the scenes even if it doesn't seem like it.
"We are moving at great speed but we are also being careful about what we are doing," Marion Buller said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Buller's remarks come after the Native Women's Association of Canada commented earlier this week on a lack of "visible progress" on the inquiry — a process budgeted to cost $53.8 million and take two years.
National inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls chief commissioner Marion Buller in Vancouver on Aug. 31. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
"Family members, loved ones have been waiting for decades to be heard,"
NWAC's president Francyne Joe said in a statement.
"We recognize that it's a big task to start a national inquiry but the lack of communication has been disappointing and worrying."
Part of the problem, Buller said, was in the way the inquiry was announced this summer, leading people to "mistakenly believe" sessions would start immediately.
“Family members, loved ones have been waiting for decades to be heard.”
"That's unfortunate that happened," she said.
"Those expectations were built inappropriately and unfortunately. However, when you look at the start times ... for other inquiries and other commissions, we are actually doing very, very well."
Inquiry headquarters opening soon
The five commissioners are now in the process of hiring staff and have named an executive director: Michele Moreau, the executive director of the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice.
The inquiry headquarters will open in Vancouver next week, Buller added, noting this will likely serve as a temporary space because there are plans to move on to reserve land in Metro Vancouver.
"That's where we belong," she said.
Buller, the first female First Nations judge in British Columbia, also said the commissioners are giving a lot of thought to the hearings because they will involve speaking with "real people" who are hurting.
Women hold images of murdered and missing indigenous women during a rally for missing and murdered indigenous women in Ottawa on Oct. 4. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
She said she can assure the families they are carefully putting together a process that will achieve the goal of doing no harm.
"We are borrowing from the medical profession but we really want to ensure that our process supports the families before, during and after the time that they spend with us telling us their stories," she said.
"Also, we want to make sure we are culturally appropriate because indigenous cultures across Canada are radically different from each other."
Families will be given options on how to participate in the inquiry process, she noted, including the chance to speak publicly at community gatherings or in private sessions.
“We want to make sure we are culturally appropriate because indigenous cultures across Canada are radically different from each other.”
The hearings are not expected to start until early 2017, with an interim report due in November of next year.
"I have no doubt that the whole world is watching but I work with a wonderful team of commissioners and we share the load," Buller said.
"We are all mindful of public scrutiny ... We've had inquiries from people all over the world so we are very much aware of that."
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