OTTAWA – A commissioner on the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women has announced she will resign at the end of this week – a departure that raises new questions among advocates about how much faith they can put in the much-anticipated process.
Marilyn Poitras, one of five commissioners named by the Liberal government last summer to examine the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, explained her decision in a letter to Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"It is clear to me that I am unable to perform my duties as a commissioner with the process designed in its current structure," the letter said, noting she will step aside as of July 15.
Poitras' resignation comes shortly after the departure of the commission's executive director, Michele Moreau, and is further evidence "the whole inquiry is in jeopardy," said Sheila North Wilson, a grand chief of an organization representing First Nations in northern Manitoba.
"I maintain that the chief commissioner needs to resign to restore any kind of faith among the families and survivors of missing and murdered Indigenous women," she said. "We shouldn't be worried about delays. We should be worried about getting the process right."
In an interview, lead commissioner Marion Buller thanked Poitras for her contributions, adding the inquiry is still prepared to move ahead with its work as planned, including nine hearings this fall beginning in September in Thunder Bay, Ont.
"I want to reassure families and survivors that we will continue to work towards hearings – hearing from them, hearing about their stories, at the same time respecting Indigenous laws and traditional knowledge," she said.
"This resignation is not going to change the work that we are doing in terms of preparing the right path, the good path to hear from families and survivors."
It will be up to the Liberal government to decide if a new commissioner will be named to replace Poitras, she added.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett wouldn't say Tuesday whether one will be chosen.
She said she met with the existing group on Monday, and remains confident in their ability to do the work required, but better communication on how they'll do it will be essential.
"They really do have the vision, the values, the tools and the plan to get this work done," she said.
This resignation is not going to change the work that we are doing in terms of preparing the right path, the good path to hear from families and survivors.
The commission has faced critiques from families frustrated at the pace of consultations and communications. Four staffers have resigned in recent months.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he's invited the commissioners to attend the AFN's upcoming general assembly in order to speak directly to those affected by the commission's work.
"We're very concerned about this resignation because the work of the national inquiry is too important and we want to see it succeed for the families," he said in a statement.
The federal government gave the commissioners a budget of about $53.9 million and asked them to complete their work by the end of 2018, with an interim report due in November.
Buller has already indicated more time and funding will be required but a formal application has yet to be filed to the federal government. She could not say Tuesday when the request will be made.