The commissioners at the helm of an inquiry examining why a disproportionate number of Indigenous women are killed or go missing in Canada will soon ask the federal government for more time to complete their probe.
Michèle Audette, one of four commissioners on the inquiry, said the amount of extra time required has not yet been decided, but a one-year to two-year extension request is being contemplated.
The commissioners are awaiting further analysis on what would be gained from a longer schedule and how it would affect the inquiry's funding and staffing needs. The proposal is also being discussed with the national inquiry's family advisory circle.
Ms. Audette, the former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said the federal government is aware that an extension request is coming. She expects a formal submission will be made in the fall to Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, announced in August, 2016, has been mired in controversy, accused of poor communication, moving too slowly, and failing to provide sufficient support to traumatized Indigenous women and families sharing their stories. Several key staff members have also resigned, including one of its five appointed commissioners.
Ms. Audette said the commissioners and inquiry staff are working hard to address concerns and improve communication. She noted that government procurement and hiring rules have at times bogged down the inquiry's work, which is supposed to be completed by Nov. 1, 2018.
Many Indigenous groups and families of missing and murdered women spent years lobbying for an inquiry to explore the root causes of the tragedy and to propose measures to reduce the deaths and violence. A 2014 report by the RCMP identified nearly 1,200 Indigenous women and girls who disappeared or were slain in recent decades.
Ms. Audette believes many families and Indigenous leaders remain supportive of the inquiry and extending the timetable will mean more families and experts will be heard. She said the commission is on track to deliver an interim report to the government by its mandated deadline of Nov. 1, 2017. If no extension is granted, a final report and recommendations are due by the next November.
"The pressure is very, very high every day," Ms. Audette said. "If we have more time, we have more places we would love to go to. More hearings. More expert panels," she added. An extension, she said, would help "for the truth-finding collecting that we need to do and of course, for the report to present the recommendations."