The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is formally requesting a two-year extension of its mandate.
The request, submitted to the federal government on Tuesday, will be reviewed by Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett. If approved, it will give the commissioners until Dec. 31, 2020, to finish their work.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had initially earmarked two years and $53.8 million for the long-awaited inquiry. It’s unclear how the budget would be affected if the extension is granted.
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The inquiry’s chief commissioner, Marion Buller, said last fall that she planned to submit the request to Bennett’s office by the end of December. It’s therefore more than two months overdue, adding to a long list of issues that have plagued the inquiry since its inception.
“The Commissioners and I firmly believe that an additional two years is required to do justice to our critically important mandate for the safety and security of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQ people,” said Buller in a release.
“The response from families, survivors and Indigenous communities has been overwhelming, and we have a sacred responsibility to them to continue moving forward.”
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In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Bennett said she would be taking a few weeks to review the request, and would consult with “families, Indigenous partners, provincial and territorial counterparts and my cabinet colleagues.”
Bennett also said she would be responding “shortly” to recommendations made by the inquiry in its interim report, published late last year, “and we will outline further actions.”
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The inquiry says it has heard from 763 witnesses during 134 public hearings so far, plus 103 closed-door witnesses at 11 community hearings and one expert hearing. The inquiry’s “statement gathering team” has collected 276 statements and received 45 artistic expressions, the release noted.
“About 630 more individuals have registered with the National Inquiry to share their truths and continue to express interest in participating.”
In addition to hearing from more witnesses, the inquiry says it expects the extension would allow for additional institutional and expert hearings.
“These additional hearings would allow for in-depth examination of issues that include human trafficking and sexual exploitation, institutionalization of Indigenous women and girls, and healthcare and addiction services. … With an extension, the National Inquiry also plans to commission original research to fill gaps on pressing topics, including on the criminal justice system and systems of colonial violence.”
The initial stages of the inquiry were launched in December 2015, shortly after the Liberals formed government. Since then, the inquiry has had to contend with a number of high-profile resignations, bureaucratic hurdles and logistical challenges.
Many of the families wishing to testify have also complained about a lack of communication from organizers.
Buller addressed those problems last fall, defending her team’s work and saying they had “turned a page.”