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'Leadership problem' plagues missing and murdered women's inquiry: U of M prof

A commissioner's resignation has spurred more calls for an overhaul of the inquiry from local experts and advocates.

Marilyn Poitras, one of the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, takes part in a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, February 7, 2017. The inquiry announced Tuesday that Poitras has resigned as a commissioner.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Marilyn Poitras, one of the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, takes part in a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, February 7, 2017. The inquiry announced Tuesday that Poitras has resigned as a commissioner.

A string of controversy currently rocking the national inquiry into the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls reached new heights Tuesday after a commissioner announced she was stepping down.

Marilyn Poitras' resignation spurred more calls for an overhaul of the inquiry from local experts and advocates.

"It's huge. It shows you there's a leadership problem in that inquiry," said Niigaan Sinclair, assistant professor in the department of Native Studies at University of Manitoba. He thinks now is the time to hit the "reset button" on the process.

"Indigenous women's organizations should be the ones on the table to decide," he said of a possible replacement for Poitras. "If the federal government continues to lead this process, it's a recipe for disaster."

Since its launch, the $53.8 million inquiry has been accused of lack of transparency, clear strategy and strong partnerships with Indigenous communities across the country. A handful of high profile staff have already left their ranks, and Poitras is the first of five commissioners to step aside.

"This inquiry needs to have appropriate and proportional representation and be driven by Indigenous people, we know how to help ourselves, we know what we need," wrote MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson in a statement.

Last week, days after the inquiry's executive director had stepped down, North Wilson called for the inquiry's chief commissioner to follow suit and allow for a restart of the whole process.

NDP MLA for St. Johns Nahanni Fontaine, who has worked with Indigenous women groups for a long time, said the latest resignation brings more disappointment and sadness to families who have been waiting for justice for far too long.

"They are depressed about this process. They are mad and upset about it," she said.

The bigger issue, she added, is the timeframe allocated to the inquiry. While there are thousands of families waiting to give testimonies about the loss of their loved ones, the inquiry has been given two years to complete its process.

"That timeframe is utterly unreasonable for the inquiry to be successful," she said, noting the process should get at least four to five years to be completed. "Families do want the inquiry to deliver as soon as possible, but they want it to be rightly done."

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