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Bernie Williams, right, embraces Carmen Paterson while testifying at the final day of hearings at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. If there is one word to describe the imperative behind the mandate given to the commission looking into the tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women “urgency” would be a good one.

The Trudeau government could not have made that message more clear than it did by giving commissioners a tight two-year timeline to complete their work.

Time is of the essence. Indigenous leaders have pressed for the inquiry for more than a decade. And rightly so. Estimates of missing and murdered Indigenous women since 1980 range from an appalling 1,200 to the even more appalling figure of 4,000. They account for just 4 per cent of the population but 16 per cent of all murdered women in Canada.

The tragedy and heartbreak behind those numbers is unimaginable.

That’s why it was so disheartening that before the final public hearings wrapped up in Vancouver last Sunday, the head of the commission asked for an extension that would double the time originally allotted for the inquiry’s work.

If Judge Marion Buller’s request is granted the commissioners won’t file their final report until Dec. 1, 2020, rather than the end of this year. That is an unacceptably long delay on this critical issue.

Buller estimates, too, that the extension will require another $50 million in funding. That’s on top of the existing $54 million budget.

It would be easy for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, Carolyn Bennett, to dismiss her request.

After all, Buller has lost the support of many of the victims’ families and Indigenous leaders who fought hard for this inquiry. Last December, the Assembly of First Nations asked the federal government to replace her. And in late March a coalition of 200 family members and Indigenous leaders called on Bennett, to refuse her request to extend the inquiry.

Still, there is too much at stake for Bennett to take that easy path.

No one wants the commissioners to deliver a weak report that simply echoes earlier studies by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations.

That doesn’t mean, though, that she should continue to give the commission free rein. She has taken pains not to interfere with the independence of the inquiry, but Bennett must now step in and make sure it is on track to deliver a landmark report.

To stand back and watch the commission continue to flounder is tantamount to failing these women and their families, yet again.

The commission’s work has been anything but stellar to date. It has been dogged by delays, infighting and departures of key personnel.

The commission started its work in September, 2016 but didn’t manage to hold a public hearing for the first eight months. Indeed, by the end of March, a year and a half into its mandate, it had only heard from 880 witnesses. Contrast that to the 2,100 participants and 4,100 online submissions the three federal ministers responsible for establishing the commission heard from in a mere two months leading up to the inquiry.

Given the commission’s track record, Bennett should not bow to Buller’s request to continue on for another two years.If a short extension – with clearly defined objectives to meet in that extra time – is needed to do justice to this critically important mandate, then that should be granted.The commission was tasked with identifying the roots of the long-standing epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and make recommendations on how to end it. Changing the outcomes for Indigenous women is what really matters here. And that work can’t begin […]

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