MMIW inquiry: Meet the 5 commissioners

Ottawa is handing over the reins of its long-awaited inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to five commissioners. Read on to learn the backgrounds of the five Canadians who will decide what the review will look like.

B.C.'s 1st female First Nations judge will lead the national inquiry

Marion Buller, Qajaq Robinson, Marilyn Poitras, Michele Audette and Brian Eyolfson, left to right, were at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday for the launch of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. The five have been named as commissioners of the inquiry. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The federal government is handing over the reins of its long-awaited inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to five commissioners. 

They'll have the power to decide who to call as witnesses and what the review will look like.

The commission will also be able to refer cases to the authorities, like the attorney general or police, for more investigation. But they can't force police to reopen cases or lay charges.

The national inquiry will be launched Sept. 1 and last more than two years at a cost of at least $53.8 million.

Here's what we know about the commissioners:

Marion Buller

Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the inquiry, has been a trailblazer in the legal community and, in 1994, became the first Indigenous woman appointed to B.C.'s provincial court bench. Prior to the appointment, she worked as a civil and criminal lawyer, and served as both a director and president of Canada's Indigenous Bar Association.

Judge Marion Buller, named as chief commissioner of the inquiry, has been a trailblazer in the legal community and, in 1994, became the first Indigenous woman appointed to B.C.'s provincial court bench. (Justin Tang/Canadian PRess)

Her efforts also led to the creation of the First Nations Court of British Columbia in 2006. The court focuses on restorative justice and rehabilitation through reconciliation with victims and the larger community. 

Indigenous people in that province can now opt to have their bail and sentencing hearings held at the First Nations court, and judges must consider alternatives to prison.

"Judge Buller is restorative justice personified," Pamela Shields, manager of Aboriginal services for the Legal Services Society, said in an interview with the Kamloops Daily News in 2012. "It's a path out of this endless cycle of Aboriginal people being caught up in the criminal justice system."

Buller lives in Port Coquitlam, B.C., but maintains band membership with the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Michèle Audette

Michèle Audette, a longtime Quebec activist and former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), was born to a Québécois father and Innu mother in 1971 in the Innu community of Mani Utenam. Audette got involved in political life at a young age.

Michèle Audette is a longtime Quebec activist and former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. Born to a Québécois father and Innu mother in the Innu community of Mani Utenam, she got involved in political life at a young age. (The Canadian Press)

"She was kicked out from her community," Audette said of her mother in an interview with Windspeaker. "We had to live outside. [It was then] I realized that the Indian Act was discriminating against women."

Audette then fought against the now-repealed sections of that legislation, which stripped Indigenous women of their status if they married a non-Indigenous man.

She also served as deputy minister of Quebec's status of women before taking the top job at the NWAC, where she repeatedly pressed the now former government to call a national inquiry to no avail.

Audette also ran unsuccessfully for the federal Liberals in the riding of Terrebonne in the 2015 election, but lost to Bloc Québécois MP Michel Boudrias.

Brian Eyolfson

Brian Eyolfson is a First Nations and human rights lawyer.

Brian Eyolfson, a First Nations and human rights lawyer, was counsel to Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto at the Ipperwash inquiry, and served as vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. (CBC)

He was counsel to Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto at the Ipperwash inquiry, which released its report in 2007, and practised law before a variety of tribunals and courts.

Eyolfson served as vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where he adjudicated and mediated human rights applications, from 2007 to 2016.

He's currently deputy director in the Legal Services Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

Marilyn Poitras

​Marilyn Poitras is a constitutional and Aboriginal law expert at the University of Saskatchewan. 

Poitras, a graduate of Harvard Law School, started her career as a native court worker and then articled at the Saskatchewan Department of Justice, focusing on constitutional law.

​Marilyn Poitras is a constitutional and Aboriginal law expert at the University of Saskatchewan, and is Métis.

She helped develop Indigenous legal education initiatives across the country and was a professor at the Akitsiraq Law School in Nunavut.

She sits on the board of the Canadian Journal of Poverty Law and served as vice-president of Indigenous governance at the University of New Brunswick's Institute on Governance. In addition to her roles in academia, she has worked in private practice and litigated at every level of court in Canada.

Poitras, who is Métis, was also a producer of 7 Minutes, a film about an Indigenous woman from Saskatchewan who was stalked and chased. She has edited a number of books from various First Nations elders in Saskatchewan that recount stories of surviving the residential school system and traditional teachings.

Qajaq Robinson

Igloolik, Nunavut-born Robinson is a lawyer in Ottawa at the firm Borden, Ladner, Gervais. She came to local prominence for representing Ian Campeau, also known as DJ NDN, a member of the Indigenous rap group A Tribe Called Red, in his legal fight at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal with the Nepean Redskins Football Club over its name and logo.

The club changed its name to the Nepean Eagles three weeks after Robinson filed Campeau's case.

Robinson, who is fluent in Inuktitut, graduated from the Akitsiraq law program in 2005 — a partnership between the University of Victoria and Nunavut Arctic College.

Qajaq Robinson is an Igloolik, Nunavut-born lawyer in Ottawa at the firm Borden, Ladner, Gervais, and is fluent in Inuktitut. (Qajaq Robinson/LinkedIn)

"I told the Globe and Mail when I was graduating law school that one day I was going to prove to anyone who questioned the quality of Akitsiraq Law School and its graduates that I was going to swim with the sharks one day. I wasn't going to drown," she said in an interview with Nunatsiaq.

She served as clerk with judges of the Nunavut Court of Justice under then Chief Justice Beverley Browne and later worked as a Crown prosecutor in Nunavut.

"I liked to be in court. I like thinking on my feet. I like articulating my position. I like advocacy. I get a rush from it, I like competition," she said.