The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has confirmed it will hold hearings in Montreal — an announcement many families had been waiting for.
Michèle Audette confirmed the decision prior to the opening ceremony Monday of the public hearings in the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, near Sept-Îles on the province's North Shore.
"The next one, I'm not afraid to say, is Montreal, we just don't know when," said Audette.
Families in Quebec had been pressing for hearings in the province's largest city, which is more easily accessible to many remote communities across the province.
The inquiry is investigating the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls across Canada.
RCMP have identified 1,200 victims between 1980 and 2012, though some experts believe the real number is much higher.
The hearings in Mani-Utenam are the first since the beginning of the inquiry to take place within an Indigenous community, Audette said. Making a stop in Montreal was also necessary, she said.
"Many families don't want to testify in their First Nation territory," she said.
Slowing down pace of inquiry
The inquiry announced last week it was postponing the hearings in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, that had been planned for December.
The commissioners are hoping to slow down the pace of the hearings, Audette said.
"We need more time to breathe between hearings, the staff need more time," she said, adding it's important to give families the time and attention they require.
"We need to get to a place where everyone is comfortable. Where we are not forgetting things, or missing things, but making sure the staff, you and I, but especially the families can breathe."
More than 60 family members and survivors are expected to testify during the five days of hearings in the Innu community.
The inquiry will also have staff available to meet with up to 35 people who have not registered, but who want to share their stories.
The daily community hearings are expected to begin at 9 a.m. ET and finish around 5 p.m. They will wrap up on Friday.
In the inquiry's interim report, released earlier this month, commissioners recommended the creation of a national police task force that could review cold cases and reopen investigations.
The final report is to be completed by Nov. 1, 2018.