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Commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Marion Buller and Michelle Audette, appear as witnesses at a House of Commons committee on Parliament Hill. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) The chief commissioner of the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls says she has assembled a team of forensic investigators who are reviewing the activity of some Canadian police forces.

“We have always intended to investigate policing, and I think the best way of describing it succinctly is we intend to investigate the investigations,” said Marion Buller, a former B.C. judge, during her appearance before the House of Commons Indigenous affairs committee.

The inquiry has already sought files from the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Thunder Bay Police Service, she said. “They have been very co-operative, and forthcoming about their files,” she replied to a question from Ontario Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree.

Buller said the forensic team — which is comprised of Crown attorneys, defense lawyers and other experts — is looking to document common tactics used by police during investigations and the conduct used during interviews with witnesses to crime.

Some activists fear the inquiry’s terms of reference are too narrow and do not allow commissioners to examine the conduct of police forces, some of which have been accused of botching investigations into missing and murdered Indigenous women. There have also been claims of systemic racism in some police forces.

In a progress report filed with the Commons committee Thursday, the commissioners said reviewing individual files is very much part of its work.

“If we have concerns about the way a case was handled, we will make recommendations to the appropriate authorities for further action,” the report said. “Our forensic document committee — made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts — will review select files and will identify and propose solutions to systemic problems and promote practices to increase the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls.” Buller says the inquiry will review the conduct of some police. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) Despite assurances police forces would not escape the inquiry’s scrutiny, the commissioners said families should not expect public hearings to be conducted like a court of law.

“We do not mark exhibits or follow other courtroom-like procedures while the family member or survivor is talking,” the report said.

The inquiry has long warned family members not to expect a full re-investigation of individual files , or for the inquiry to assign blame for a failed investigation, prosecution, or search and rescue. It does not have the right to interfere in active police investigations.

It can, however, look at files to assess the competency of a police response, the investigation process and the behaviour of Crown attorneys. While that might seem like a fine distinction, the inquiry is more concerned about identifying common pitfalls of Canadian policing rather than assign blame to individual officers for the outcome of a particular case.

There will also be so-called “institutional hearings” — meetings separate from those with families — where commissioners will be able to quiz police services and child welfare agencies, among other groups, about their conduct. Five such meetings will be held in the new year. Call for patience

The inquiry has been plagued by frequent staffing changes — including the departure of a commissioner — and delays.

Only one family hearing has been held since the inquiry was formally launched in August 2016. Many family members have asked the commissioners to request an extension, more money, or a full restart.

Buller placed at least some of the blame on the requirement that the inquiry work within the confines of the federal […]

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