OTTAWA—The executive director of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has left her role after barely three months on the job, becoming the latest in a series of high-profile departures from the beleaguered project.
The inquiry confirmed Debbie Reid’s departure in a statement Thursday evening. The statement said director of operations Calvin Wong will act as interim executive director, effective immediately.
“While we cannot discuss the details of the matter, we thank Debbie for her contributions,” the statement said.
“We have a sacred responsibility to the 597 families and survivors who have entrusted the national inquiry with their truths and the 600 more who are registered to do so.”
Reid is now the second executive director to leave the inquiry, which has been beset with criticism from Indigenous groups and some family members of women and girls who have been killed or have disappeared in Canada.
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The two-year process has seen resignations from high-ranking officials that included one of five of the commissioners carrying out the inquiry, which is designed to examine the systemic violence against Indigenous women and girls. Marilyn Poitras, a Métis professor from Saskatchewan, stepped down as a commissioner in July, stating that she was unable to work with the inquiry’s “current structure.”
Other resignations have included Michèle Moreau, the original executive director who stepped down for “personal reasons” last June 30. The inquiry’s director of research Aimeé Craft and lead commission counsel Susan Vella also left in October.
In an emailed statement Thursday night, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said she is “concerned” with the amount of turnover at the inquiry.
“Some families have been waiting decades for this national inquiry; we all want to see it succeed,” she said.
“While we share families’ concerns about the difficulties we have seen, the independence of the commission is crucial, and we aren’t going to interfere in internal matters.”
Laurie Odjick, a mother from Maniwaki, Que. who serves as a volunteer family adviser to the inquiry, told the Star that she received an email about Reid’s departure earlier in the day.
“As a family member, I really don’t know anymore,” she said, in reaction to the news.
“My faith is starting to fall, and I’m just hopeful that, I hope things turn around for the new year, and the new year hasn’t started off any better.”
The inquiry was launched in September 2016 and held its first public hearing to gather testimony from families and victims in Whitehorse last May.
The four remaining commissioners released an interim report Nov. 1 on their work so far and also made a list of recommendations that included the “immediate” creation of a special police task force to work on cold cases, and blamed government red tape for delays and other “challenges” the inquiry has faced.
Head commissioner Marion Buller said at the time the inquiry was preparing to ask the Liberal government for more time and money to complete their work.
The current deadline for their mandate expires at the end of the year.
The next public hearing for the inquiry is scheduled to begin Jan. 23 in Yellowknife.
An RCMP report in 2014 indicated there are 1,181 Indigenous women and girls who have been killed or have disappeared. The inquiry’s interim report, however, highlighted that many believe that number is low.