Mulcair, premiers call for inquiry into missing aboriginal women
Published Wednesday, August 27, 2014 10:53AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 27, 2014 5:19PM EDT
An NDP government would launch a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women within 100 days of taking office, Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair said Wednesday, before Canada’s premiers and First Nations leaders renewed their commitment to probing the issue.
Mulcair told reporters that only a full public inquiry would get at the root causes of violence against aboriginal women in Canada. An RCMP report issued in May concluded that nearly 1,200 aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in this country in the last 30 years.
Mulcair’s comments came ahead of a meeting between aboriginal leaders and premiers in Charlottetown Wednesday.
After the meeting, Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz said the premiers “re-endorsed” their support of the call for a national inquiry.
“We believe that this is an extremely serious issue that needs to be focused on as we move forward,” Ghiz said, speaking on behalf of the premiers.
The premiers also support the idea of a national roundtable discussion with federal ministers if the federal government resists opening a full inquiry.
"We believe that it's better to compromise and open up the first line of discussions rather than to just sit back and say, 'Well, I guess we'll wait for the next election and see what happens.' "
Asked for specifics about the potential roundtable participants, Ghiz had few details and said the idea was in its planning stages. However, he said the relevant federal cabinet ministers -- including the ministers of justice and aboriginal affairs -- should be at the table.
The premiers are also committed to dealing with the socio-economic root causes of violence against aboriginal women, and will develop an action plan at the upcoming national aboriginal women’s summit.
“We believe that that is one of the keys to helping alleviate this terrible black eye on Canada,” Ghiz said. “And we know that concentrating on education, concentrating on housing, concentrating on making sure that people have the opportunity for jobs, will go a long way in terms of dealing with this issue.”
Michele Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said she is happy the premiers continue to support a public inquiry. She added that it is imperative that the federal government be a part of any effort to address the issue.
Ghislain Picard, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said a roundtable forum would put “added pressure” on the federal government to focus on the issue. But it would not replace a full inquiry.
“It needs to happen,” Picard told CTV News Channel in a telephone interview from Charlottetown. “The situation is far too important, and the families and relatives of the missing and murdered have been waiting.”
Before the meeting, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall joined the premiers of Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia in supporting calls for an inquiry. Wall suggested the probe could take on the format of a federal-provincial forum, such as the one the provinces established for health care.
"I don't think anyone wants another ponderous, interminable process where we don't have action and results," Wall said earlier Wednesday.
"I think what we can achieve as premiers and as a country, if the federal government would engage, is an event and an exchange of best practices that's informed by action."
The forum could explore issues such as First Nations education and the justice system, Wall said.
Calls for an inquiry have grown louder since the recent death of Tina Fontaine. The 15-year-old aboriginal girl went missing earlier this month and was later found dead in the Red River in Winnipeg.
The Assembly of First Nations and other First Nations groups have said that Fontaine’s death underscores the need for an inquiry.
“It is unacceptable that aboriginal women are nearly three times more likely than other Canadian women to report being victims of violence,” a spokesperson for Wynne said Tuesday.
The federal government has rejected calls for a public inquiry.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called Fontaine’s case a crime that police should investigate, but not be considered part of a broader “sociological phenomenon.”
Later Wednesday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay issued a statement, reiterating the federal government’s position that further study of the issue is unnecessary.
“What is clear, is that continued action and sustained effort and investment is required,” MacKay said in the statement.
“What we don't need, is yet another study on top of the some 40 studies and reports that have already been done, that made specific recommendations which are being pursued, to delay ongoing action.”
The federal government is taking “direct action to address the tragedy that is missing and murdered aboriginal women,” he said, including introducing more than 30 justice and public safety initiatives, including tougher sentences for crimes such as murder and sexual assault.
The government is also funding violence-reduction programs, for example, and supports the creation of a national missing person’s DNA index.