The resignation of another top-level official from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is "disheartening" for families and signals that internal discord continues to plague the commission, two Manitoba advocates say.
The inquiry confirmed the departure of executive director Debbie Reid on Thursday. Reid came under fire when, shortly after she was hired in October, she sent a letter to inquiry staff telling them their primary role was to protect the inquiry's commissioners from "criticism or surprises."
Morene Gabriel, former commission community relations manager for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, remembers receiving that letter, which she called "unnerving." Reacting to the news of Reid's resignation on Thursday, Gabriel said the commission is under enormous pressure and lacks clear direction.
"[The commission is] on shaky ground. Families are left alone, feeling unsupported. This is just another confirmation that this isn't right," she said.
The inquiry has been hit by a string of high-profile departures recently, including one commissioner and the previous executive director. The inquiry said it couldn't discuss the reasons behind Reid's departure.
Gabriel was hired on a contract in June, but it was abruptly terminated in November after she sent a list of 17 recommendations to the inquiry commissioners advising them on how she thought the inquiry should proceed.
One of Gabriel's biggest concerns was the lack of aftercare provided to family members and survivors who testified during the inquiry hearings. It's two months since she left the inquiry, but families are still calling her, asking for help, she said.
"Over the holidays, there were come critical incidents where families received their autopsy reports, which came only after their hearing in Saskatoon," she said.
"Imagine receiving this important information for the first time after your loved one has been murdered and having to deal with the triggers and the trauma alone."
Sandra Delaronde, co-chair of the Manitoba MMIW Coalition, called Reid's resignation "unfortunate," saying it further delays the inquiry. Although families and advocacy groups have long called for an overhaul of the commission, this is not what they had in mind, she said.
"It's a sign of dysfunction in the inquiry. Our call for resignation was for the commissioners, not with the staff," she said.
Delaronde also pointed to the lack of aftercare for families as an ongoing concern.
"They held the largest hearing in Manitoba, where there were over 100 families that told their truth, and they have not been provided aftercare or support by the national inquiry since October," she said.
Gabriel said staff at the commission are overwhelmed by the demands placed on them by families, politicians and superiors within the commission.
"But it was only overwhelming because there was no support internally and there was no clear direction," she said.
Inquiry Chief Commissioner Marion Buller has said she plans to ask the federal government for an extension to properly complete the inquiry's work.
Delaronde wants to see the commission appoint a commissioner from Manitoba.
In the absence of support from the commission, families and advocacy groups have begun discussing holding a national gathering of families to support one another, Delaronde said.