MMIWG inquiry lacked family aftercare plan, HR staff, says fired health manager

Over a year into its mandate, the National Inquiry Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls has still not developed an aftercare protocol for participating families or created positions to deal with the human resources issues plaguing its work, according to a manager fired last month.

Inquiry has lost at least 20 people to firings, resignations since last September

Jodie Millward, a former health manager with the MMIWG Inquiry, says the internal dysfunction is impacting hearings. (Courtesy of Jodie Millward)

Over a year into its mandate, the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls has still not developed an aftercare protocol for participating families or created positions to deal with the human resources issues plaguing its work, according to a health manager fired last month.

Jodie Millward, the inquiry's former manager of health responsible for Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon, was fired Oct. 15 after only 14 weeks on the job. She is the third former staff member to speak publicly this week, alleging the inquiry's high-pressure internal work environment is dysfunctional and lacking clear direction.

"My coming forward is not to take focus off the families and survivors but to help make the inquiry accountable for their actions," said Millward. "I believe that decisions are being made that are affecting the quality of care that families and survivors are receiving and impacting the outcome of the hearings."

Morene Gabriel was hired with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls national inquiry in June and fired on Nov. 14. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Millward joins Morene Gabriel, a former inquiry community relations manager, and Melissa Carlick, a former inquiry health coordinator, in speaking out about the inquiry's internal problems. Gabriel and Carlick were fired this month.

Gabriel told CBC News this week the inquiry had a "sick internal culture." Carlick said in a CBC News interview that senior management would dismiss "anyone who doesn't make them look good."

Inquiry lawyer Karen Snowshoe also tendered her resignation this month, which was set to take effect at the end of December.

The inquiry has lost at least 20 people — including former commissioner Marilyn Poitras, an executive director and several directors — to resignations and firings since it began its operations in September 2016.

The inquiry has refused to comment on the latest round of resignations and firings.

No aftercare plan, policies

Millward said when she began working for the inquiry it had no set process for dealing with the aftercare for participating families and survivors. She said senior managers were only beginning the work and she was tasked with drafting an aftercare process and model.

"It was based on best practices, based on work we were already doing, work we already knew and it also had some blank spaces where we needed policies were there were none," she said, in an interview with CBC News. "I never received any feedback on it."

Millward said the inquiry also had no staff directly responsible for human resources and problems were expected to be reported to immediate supervisors. If there was a conflict with an immediate supervisor, staff were forced to figure a way to get their complaints to their supervisor's superior, she said.

Melissa Carlick, who lives in Whitehorse, was the community liaison and health co-ordinator for the MMIWG inquiry in Yukon, Alberta, N.W.T. and parts of British Columbia. She says she was fired after the Edmonton hearings. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Millward said she kept her director informed of staff issues, but she was never sure what happened to her reports.

"I don't know where she was bringing the (human resource) issues that we were bringing forward to her," she said. "I don't know what she was doing with them or what she was doing about them."

At the time, Millward said she thought these issues would work themselves out.

"I had high hopes we would fix it," she said. "I think I was wrong in the sense I am no longer there and the people that were doing the actions and behaviours that were destructive are still there."

Millward, who still has admiration for the commissioners, said she doubts the current workload, pressure and pace of the inquiry, coupled with limited resources, is sustainable in the long run without substantial changes.

'Completely and utterly blindsided'

Millward, who lives in Coquitlam, B.C., said she often worked 16 to 17 hour days and was on the road for nine of the 14 weeks she was with the inquiry, travelling to Smithers, B.C., Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Halifax.

"It was really chaotic, it was stressful," she said.

Millward said she was fired without warning on Oct. 15 after receiving an email to meet with the current executive director Debbie Reid at 6 p.m. that day while she was in Winnipeg preparing for the start of hearings in the city. She said she met with Reid in a Radisson Hotel room with a female security staff member present and her director on the phone.

"I was completely and utterly blindsided," said Millward. "The conversation started with them saying that I was hindering the process of the inquiry and I was like, 'how?' I got a little defensive, I didn't know what they were talking about. [Reid] said, 'I don't want to get into specifics.'"

After the meeting, Millward said she was escorted by the security staffer to her own hotel room who watched as she packed up her things. Millward turned over her computer, phone and files and she was driven to the airport for an 8:30 p.m. flight to Vancouver on a ticket she didn't know had been purchased.

"I slept for three days," she said. "I was exhausted, absolutely exhausted, emotionally and mentally and physically exhausted."


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him

With files from Meagan Deuling and Jillian Taylor