Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Aboriginal Women To Begin Within Two Weeks: Minister

Governor General David Johnston and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look on as Carolyn Bennett is sworn in as the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs during ceremonies at Rideau Hall, Wednesday Nov.4, 2015 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Governor General David Johnston and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look on as Carolyn Bennett is sworn in as the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs during ceremonies at Rideau Hall, Wednesday Nov.4, 2015 in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – The Liberal government will begin the process within the next “couple of weeks” of consulting Canadians on how best to proceed with an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, the country’s new indigenous affairs minister says.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Carolyn Bennett indicated that the start of pre-inquiry consultations will be announced before the end of the month.

READ MORE: A look at 5 high-profile members of Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet, including Carolyn Bennet

“I think that we feel that we will need to make an announcement shortly,” Bennett said in an interview Monday.

“Within … a couple of weeks, we’ll have to be able to launch what we think is the best possible process for a pre-inquiry engagement.”

That process will involve speaking with the families of victims, provincial and territorial representatives and grassroots organizations, she added.

“A gathering is important with the families, but I think that we feel that we will have to go out and talk to people who can’t come here and listen,” she said. “I would see that there would be also an online opportunity.”

Bennett said it will be important to establish a road map for the inquiry, including spelling out its mandate and determining how many commissioners should take part.

In their election platform, the Liberals promised to spend $40 million over two years on the examination.

Aboriginal experts — among them Justice Murray Sinclair, the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which explored the tragic legacy of residential schools — say it’s critically important that the government get the terms and timeline right.

That will be no easy feat.

Ojibway activist Joan Jack, a retired lawyer who previously ran to become national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is among a number of observers who want the inquiry to examine violence that takes place both inside and outside indigenous communities.

Bennett acknowledged those concerns Monday.

“I think most people that I’ve been listening to want the scope to be broad enough to deal with those complex issues,” she said.

The minister, a longtime Liberal critic on aboriginal affairs, has developed strong relationships in the indigenous community that promise to be helpful as she tackles what by all accounts will be a complex and closely scrutinized endeavour.

Sinclair and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde, for example, were both effusive in their praise for the selection of Bennett as minister.

“I think that people know that I don’t have a magic wand, that this is going to take some time to get this right,” Bennett said. “But I think what they want to see immediately are the indicators of a new way of doing business.”

READ MORE; How Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould could change Canada-aboriginal relationship

Job 1 will be to build trust.

The relationship between First Nations and the federal government grew increasingly hostile under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, especially during the Canada-wide Idle No More protests that dominated headlines throughout the winter of 2012.

Bennett said she will be relying on the allies she has enlisted in indigenous communities to provide feedback on how the government is doing on the file.

Isadore Day, an AFN regional chief in Ontario, has told the minister the federal government needs to be “adversaries no more.”

“That is what they are expecting,” Bennett said. “From coast to coast to coast, I think people, I hope, know that I will always be learning — but now that I have real friends, they are prepared to correct me.”

She also said the attitude shift starts “at the top” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We have a prime minister who is passionately committed to reconciliation,” Bennett said. “This is a hugely important file to him and to Canada.”

There also appears to be a new openness from interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose. Bennett was “pleasantly surprised” to learn Ambrose plans to support the work of the inquiry.

The help of parliamentarians from all parties will be necessary as the government moves ahead with the process, she noted.

The Liberals have also vowed to tackle issues such as removing the two per cent cap on annual funding increases for reserve programs and services.

“There’s no question … that so many of the programs have suffered under the cap,” Bennett said.

“We intend to look at how we go forward with this fastest growing segment of the Canadian population being able to benefit from the programs that will allow them to be successful.”

Mi’kmaq Flag Flies Over Shelburne After Ceremony

Drummers took part in the ceremony in Shelburne on Friday, Oct. 9

Drummers took part in the ceremony in Shelburne on Friday, Oct. 9

By Greg Bennett | Shelburne County Coastguard 

SHELBURNE -For the first time in more than 100 years, the Mi’kmaq Nation Flag is flying over the Town of Shelburne. 

The Mi’kmaq flag and the Acadia First Nation flag were raised during a ceremony on Friday, Oct. 9.

The event, which featured Women of the Shore drummers and a Mi’kmaq dancer, saw more than 30 people watch as the flags were raised to the voices and drums of the Honor Song.

The flag is commonly referred to as the Grand Council flag. The white background denotes the purity of creation; the red cross represents mankind and infinity four directions; the sun symbolizes the forces of the day; and, moon represents the forces of the night.

The event was held to commemorate Treaty Day, which began in 1986 with the signing of a proclamation by then Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr.

October is also celebrated as Mi’kmaq History Month.

Organizer Jeanette Nickerson thanked the crowd for coming out and all took part in the event, including representatives of the Acadia First Nations and Town of Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall.

“Kudos to you all for coming out,” she said.

Before it was over, she also hung a red dress at the site as part of a nation-wide project that offers a visual reminder of the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Bill Erasmus Defends Speech Made At MMIW Rally In Yellowknife

Bill Erasmus is drawing ire after a speech he made at a rally for missing and murdered aboriginal women, when he suggested better parenting and women not being alone on the street could prevent violence. (CBC)

Bill Erasmus is drawing ire after a speech he made at a rally for missing and murdered aboriginal women, when he suggested better parenting and women not being alone on the street could prevent violence. (CBC)

CBC News

‘It felt like a revictimization,’ says emcee of event

The Chief of the Dene Nation is being criticized for comments at a recent rally in Yellowknife, where he suggested better parenting and women not being alone on the street could prevent violence.

The Sisters in Spirit march honours the lives of missing and murdered aboriginal women, but some women found Bill Erasmus’s words anything but comforting.

“He began his conversation by looking at the women and saying, ‘You are probably not going to like what I have to say,'” says Sandra Lockhart, who emceed the rally in Somba K’e park on Friday.

Sandra Lockhart, rally emcee

Sandra Lockhart, who emceed the rally, said she was ”very, very disappointed’ in Bill Erasmus’s speech. (CBC)

The event was attended by several officials, including the premier, Yellowknife’s mayor, and the vice-president of the Native Women’s Association of the N.W.T.

Erasmus began by referring to Rinelle Harper, the young woman from Winnipeg who survived a brutal sexual assault last November, and asked what the girl was doing out by herself at night.

He went on to talk about flying to different communities, seeing young aboriginal people out late, and how better parenting and women not being alone on the street would prevent violence against them.

Lockhart says she was offended that Erasmus would minimize systemic racism and violence that has a long history in Canada.

“I was very, very disappointed in his speech,” she says, “to only focus on our parenting. It felt like a revictimization.

“That it’s just — you know — all of the women who are dying are dying because they are high risk women and high risk children? You know we’re not safe anywhere,” Lockhart says.

Erasmus, who’s also the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for the N.W.T., says his words are being taken out of context.

Bill Erasmus MMIW rally

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says his speech was taken out of context. ‘We all have to be responsible in protecting one another,’ he says. (CBC)

“I think they thought I was saying that women don’t have a right to be on the street.

“That’s not what I was saying,” Erasmus says. “They have a right to be on the street, but if the street is not safe, they have to protect themselves.”

Erasmus says the Dene Nation supports a national inquiry into missing and murdered women, and supports adequate resources for police departments so more can be done to investigate cases.

But, he says, “we all have to be responsible in protecting one another.”

“To a large degree, we’ve lost the ability to take care of ourselves. And that’s why we’re getting into this problem situation. Some people don’t want to hear that. And some people are very sensitive to this.

“If two women are together late at night, there are less chances of something happening to them. It’s that simple. That’s the point I’m making.”

Lockhart says if Erasmus really wants to deal with the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, he should take the lead in developing a national action plan.

Harper Resisting Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Aboriginal Women

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign stop at Global Systems Emissions Inc., in Whitby, Ont., on Oct. 6, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign stop at Global Systems Emissions Inc., in Whitby, Ont., on Oct. 6, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The Canadian Press

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper isn’t budging on his refusal to hold a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, framing the issue Tuesday as a law-and-order problem and noting police have solved most of the crimes.

Advocates for an inquiry swiftly criticized Harper for taking an overly narrow view of violence against aboriginal women and girls that ignores complex underlying causes.

“We don’t expect anything different from Harper,” said Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association. “We’re hoping for a government that will work with us in addressing this.”

It’s time to move past “simplistic explanations,” such as attributing the phenomenon to domestic violence, said Craig Benjamin, campaigner for the human rights of indigenous peoples at Amnesty International Canada.

“We have to get to the point of understanding the violence is far more pervasive, that it has multiple causes and that it does in fact have deep roots in our society and the relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.”

During a campaign stop in Whitby, Ont., Harper said it is “way past the time” for studying the subject because there have been some 40 examinations already.

Instead, a re-elected Conservative government would press ahead with efforts to prevent violence against aboriginal women and ensure appropriate penalties are in place for abusers.

“Our government position on this has been very clear. We have moved forward with a whole series of criminal justice reforms to deal with the problems of violence against people generally, violence against women in particular,” Harper said.

“Most of these murders, sad as they are, are in fact solved.”

In Saskatoon on Tuesday evening, about 100 protesters, including a number of aboriginal women, chanted and drummed behind a fence when Harper arrived at a pre-fab building products company.

Inside roughly the same number of partisan supporters greeted Harper enthusiastically as he continued to tout the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

A landmark report issued last year by the RCMP said close to 90 per cent of all female homicides are solved, and there is little difference in solve rates between aboriginal and non-aboriginal victims.

Overall, the RCMP review — drawing on data stretching back to 1980 — identified 1,181 police-recorded incidents of aboriginal female homicides and unresolved missing aboriginal females — 164 missing and 1,017 homicide victims.

Even so, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Tuesday that Harper was “shamefully ignorant of the facts.”

There is an obligation to get to the bottom of the problem, he said, reiterating the New Democrat promise to initiate an inquiry within 100 days of forming a government.

Benjamin said the dozens of studies into violence against aboriginal women include a “vast body of unimplemented recommendations.”

“It would be one thing if the government were to say, there’s 40 studies and we’re going to sit down and make sure those recommendations are implemented.”

A federal commission of inquiry could yield “a consistent, coherent plan of action based on a genuine knowledge of what’s happening,” Benjamin added.

In September 2014, the Conservative government outlined initiatives to address violence against aboriginal women and girls including funding for shelters and family violence prevention activities, and support for police investigations and creation of a missing persons index.

The federal measures are inadequate and leave too many gaps, Benjamin said. For instance, the vast majority of First Nations communities lack women’s shelters.

Asked at an Oct. 1 all-candidates debate about the prospect of a federal inquiry, Montreal Conservative nominee Richard Sagala acknowledged “dark chapters” in the relationship with First Nations.

A recording of the event shows he went on to characterize the creation of Nunavut as a less than satisfying experience, with violence there comparable to South Africa.

The Liberals criticized Sagala, who posted a clarification Tuesday on his Facebook page.

Maloney, meanwhile, is focusing her efforts on encouraging aboriginals to cast election ballots. “I’m hoping to have more impact on voters than on Harper.”

By Jim Bronskill and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press, Oct 6/15

Harper Again Rejects Call For Inquiry Into Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada


By Tamara Khandaker | Vice News

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has once again rejected a call to conduct a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, saying “we are way past the time for further study.”

Harper, who is running for re-election, was asked Tuesday by VICE’s Matty Matheson at a rally in Whitby, Ontario, whether he would change his position on the UN-requested inquiry.

“Our government position on this has been very clear,” said Harper. “We have moved forward with a whole series of criminal justice reforms that deal with the problems of violence against people generally, violence against women in particular.”

Harper said there have already been about 40 studies on the topic, and that the ruling Conservatives were moving forward with a plan of action that “deals with issues of prevention, investments in preventative services, particularly on reserves, that deals with issues of inquiry, of investigation.”

“Most of these murders, sad as they are, are in fact solved,” he said. “We are way past the time for further study, this is a time for action, and our government is going to proceed with our action plan.”

In a 2014 report, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) found 1,107 Aboriginal women had been murdered and another 164 went missing between the years 1980 and 2012. It surveyed data from all police jurisdictions across the country.

As of June 2015, 106 murder and 98 missing cases remained unresolved, according to the RCMP.

This means about 90 percent of the murder cases have been solved.

According to the report, solve rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal homicide victims are comparable, but they differ depending on the province.

For example, in Nova Scotia, the solve rates are 80 percent, while in New Brunswick, they are 100 percent for Aboriginal women. For non-Aboriginal women, they’re as low as 84 percent in British Columbia, and as high as 100 percent in PEI, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. However, the rates fluctuate when the numbers are small, like in Atlantic Canada.

The report also says certain homicides appear to be resolved less frequently — for example, for Aboriginal victims in the sex trade, the solve rate is less than 60 percent, while for non-Aboriginal victims, it’s 65 percent.

The overall average time to solve female homicide was similar — 212 days on average, with an average clearance time of 224 days for Aboriginal women and 205 days for non-Aboriginal women.

In 2013, Aboriginal women represented 4.3 percent of the overall female population. They were overrepresented in figures related to homicides, however, representing 16 percent of all homicide victims.

The New Democratic Party has promised to initiate an inquiry within 100 days of forming a government.

At a town hall hosted by VICE Canada in Toronto on Monday, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau reiterated his support for a government-funded inquiry.

“We need a national public inquiry into the tragedy that are the missing and murdered indigenous girls,” he said. “We need to get justice for the victims. We need healing for the family. And we need to ensure as a society, as a country, that we stop this ongoing tragedy.”

Trudeau criticized those who contend that such a public airing isn’t necessary.

“That’s almost worse. If people think they already know what the problem is, then why haven’t they fixed it,” said Trudeau. “I think we actually still need to dig into the reasons behind this and how we’re going to move forward and how we’re going to prevent this from continuing to happen.”

In May 2014, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya released a report, calling the government’s efforts to address problems faced by indigenous people “insufficient.”

He echoed calls from Canadian politicians, native groups, and other UN members, urging the Harper government to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Saskatoon Police To Give Overview Of Local Missing Women Cases

Board of police commission member Darlene Brander on January 14, 2015 in Saskatoon.

Board of police commission member Darlene Brander on January 14, 2015 in Saskatoon.


Saskatoon’s police service will soon give a thorough explanation on how investigators deal with missing and murdered aboriginal women cases in the city.

Two members of the city’s police commission say they want more information on how the department deals with cases, interacts with victims’ families and works to prevent more cases from piling up.

“We’ve done a lot of good things and are doing a lot of good things, but we need to continue,” commissioner Darlene Brander said after Monday’s police board meeting.

Brander and Carolanne Inglis-McQuay both say the public needs to know how police deals with cases where a person goes missing or is murdered — especially in cases where the victim is aboriginal.

The RCMP released a report earlier this year that shows at least 1,200 indigenous women have been murdered or have gone missing since 1980 — many of them from Saskatchewan. Brander and Inglis-McQuay recently attended a policing governance conference in Ontario where the topic of MMIW was front and centre. Now, they are asking the police service to provide a detailed overview of how those types of cases are handled.

“Really, there’s the need to do something about it,” Brander said.

Saskatoon police Chief Clive Weighill is welcoming the opportunity to give the broader public a sense of what his department is doing on the issue.

“We are probably the leading agency in Canada right now for our policy on missing people,” Weighill said.He said the department’s system of being able to “triage” missing persons cases and its ability to work side by side with families sets it apart from other police departments in the country.

The report will likely come back to the board of police commissioners in the coming months.

Ontario First Nation Chiefs Launch Who Is She‬ Campaign For Inquiry Into Missing Women


By Terri Coles | Daily Brew 

The Who Is She fundraising campaign, launched Wednesday in Toronto by Ontario’s First Nations, will raise money for a judicial inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The federal government has repeatedly declined to hold a public inquiry into the matter. Now Ontario’s chiefs will attempt to fund their own inquiry through the Who Is She campaign.

“It’s going to be designed by us as First Nations, for First Nations,” deputy grand chief Glen Hare of Anishinabek Nation told Yahoo Canada News. “It’s going to be our work for our women and our girls.”

The fundraising campaign’s launch follows the Ontario chiefs’ decision in June 2014 to organize their own inquiry into the tragedy. The fundraising aspect of Who Is She will raise money towards an aboriginal-run inquiry, but there is not yet a set financial goal or timeline, Hare said.

“We don’t want to put a dollar figure on it,” Hare said. “It’s something we’re starting as First Nations because nobody else is doing it.”

Hare acknowledges that an inquiry is an expensive undertaking, but said the Ontario chiefs believe Who Is She is a good starting point and a necessary step.

“There’s so much finger pointing, who’s responsible and who’s doing what. Enough of that,” Hare said. “It’s time to do something.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne gave the keynote speech at Wednesday’s campaign announcement along with Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer. Ontario First Nations have the support of the provincial government, Ontario police, and other aboriginal groups in this campaign, Hare said.

“I think any efforts we have to move towards an inquiry, to move towards addressing this crisis and resolving this situation are really, really important,” Dawn Memee Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, told Yahoo Canada News. “We can’t afford to have any more families in crisis, any more of our sisters go missing, while the federal government sits back and does nothing.”

According to an RCMP report released in June, 1,181 women and girls identified as indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012 with another 174 missing.

An updated study released by the RCMP in June found that there are 1,181 female aboriginal homicide victims known to Canadian police between 1980 and 2014, and 174 missing women.

Several national and international organizations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations, have also called for an inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said that his government will not call an official inquiry. Multiple past studies into missing and murdered aboriginal women, along with crime prevention measures and other program, are sufficient, Harper has said.

An NDP government would call an official inquiry within the first 100 days of its term, Leader Tom Mulcair has promised. And Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he would also call an inquiry if he becomes prime minister.

The Who Is She website will include photos of missing aboriginal women, along with messages from their family members. The Ontario First Nations hope that relatives of missing and murdered aboriginal women will be at future Who Is She events and be involved with the campaign, Hare said.

“We want them to work with us and to speak out,” he said. “And for everybody to hear what’s going on here.”

Hare said he would also welcome the participation of other First Nations across North America or their own efforts towards a similar goal.

Stephen Harper holds 1st meeting with AFN national Chief Perry Bellegarde

Perry Bellegarde was elected to head the Assembly of First Nations in December after his predecessor, Shawn Atleo, resigned in May over allegations that he was too close to the Harper government. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

Perry Bellegarde was elected to head the Assembly of First Nations in December after his predecessor, Shawn Atleo, resigned in May over allegations that he was too close to the Harper government. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

By Susana Mas, CBC News

Chief says he called on PM to withdraw First Nations education bill

Prime Minister Stephen Harper met for the first time Wednesday with the national chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, in a meeting the two sides said lasted just under an hour.

Bellegarde was elected as the national chief in December after the post was left vacant following the sudden resignation of Shawn Atleo last May. Atleo quit amid accusations from aboriginal leaders that he’d grown too close to the government given his support for a controversial government aboriginal education bill.

Ghislain Picard, the regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, held the post in the interim from July to December.

The prime minister’s chief spokesman, Jason MacDonald, told CBC News the tête-à-tête was “a very positive first meeting.”

MacDonald confirmed the two leaders met following question period where they discussed “a wide range of topics.”

Bellegarde shared news of his meeting with the prime minister in a letter sent to the AFN executive on Wednesday evening and obtained by CBC News.

“Earlier today, I met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”

The newly elected national chief said he raised the need for an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and “pressed” Harper to withdraw the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

“The prime minister stated that Bill C-33 will not move forward,” Bellegarde said in his letter to national chiefs.

“We agreed that there is much work to do to achieve the changes needed to substantively improve First Nations well-being.

Bellegarde said he also indicated to the prime minister the need for meetings between cabinet ministers and members of the AFN executive on such issues as “comprehensive claims, treaty implementation and land rights.”

The newly elected national chief said he laid out their priorities just as he did in recent meetings with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Mulcair said last Thursday he had “a great dinner meeting” with Bellegarde. In a post on Twitter, he is seen posing with the national chief and a handful of his NDP MPs.

Trudeau also posted a picture on Twitter Monday, just as Parliament reopened after a six-week break, saying he and Bellegarde discussed the need for a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, among other First Nations concerns.

Rinelle Harper calls for national inquiry into missing, murdered women (Video)

Dec 09, 2014

Rinelle Harper, the 16-year-old student who was brutally attacked last month and left for dead near the Assiniboine River, has added her voice to calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The Garden Hill First Nation teen, who is a student at Winnipeg’s Southeast Collegiate, received a standing ovation from the more than 3,000 chiefs and delegates at the Assembly of First Nations gathering in Winnipeg where they will elect a new national chief.

Harper said she was speaking publicly at the meeting to “end violence against young women.”

She said she was “thankful for the thoughts and prayers from everyone” and said she wants to get back to school.

“I wish to continue on with my life and I am thankful I will be able to go back to school to see my friends and be with my family,” she said.

“Some people who have visited with me have shared their stories of healing. I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words: love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.”

She ended her comments with a request.

“As a survivor I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women,” she said.

image (1)

Plea comes ahead of election of AFN national chief

The AFN conference began Tuesday in Winnipeg as First Nations leaders from across Canada elect a new national chief to the Assembly of First Nations.

Winnipeg police chief, Devon Clunis, and Premier Greg Selinger were both present at the ceremonies, which opened with a drum circle.

There will also be a discussion about child welfare, First Nations education and missing and murdered indigenous women in Winnipeg.

The election comes after former national Chief Shawn Atleo quit in May amid criticisms from chiefs that the AFN was getting too close with the Federal Government.

There are three names on the ballot: Perry Bellegarde from Saskatchewan, Leon Jourdain from Ontario, and Ghislain Picard, the current interim chief of the AFN.

Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said he is “not certain” he will even attend the event.

All three candidates have said the structure and vision of the AFN needs to change — something Nepinak tends to agree with.

He said the organization is losing touch and is struggling to stay relevant with indigenous people.

“I think if the AFN wants to be relevant on a going-forward basis, it’s going to have to engage at the community level,” said Nepinak. “That’s something it hasn’t done in a very, very long time.”

Pimicikamak (Cross Lake) First Nation Chief Cathy Merrick said she plans to be present for the election, but doesn’t know yet which of the three candidates she will vote for.

“They talk about treaty and aboriginal rights, and we need a leader that will speak and be able to come forth and protect those rights.”

National inquiry: It’s past time

Dawn Harvard, vice-president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, speaks to the media Monday at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, as the National Aboriginal Women's Summit got underway.

Dawn Harvard, vice-president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, speaks to the media Monday at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, as the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit got underway.

October 21, 2014

It’s past time for the federal government to both acknowledge repeated calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, and to facilitate such an inquiry.

Barring that and it seems the federal government is stubbornly intent on barring that the provinces should get together to conduct national hearings into what is obviously an appalling, entrenched sociological phenomenon.

Individual groups are working hard on the ground to publicize and address this very complicated issue.

For instance, 175 delegates are gathered in Membertou this week for the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit. They hope to bring greater attention to the issue of violence against First Nations women and discuss steps to address the root causes of that violence.

“Our conference is really to bring greater attention to the issue of violence, the issue of missing and murdered women in this country,” Dawn Harvard, the association’s vice-president, told the Cape Breton Post. “We are really experiencing violence at absolutely tragic rates and the situation has been coming to crisis and there seems to not be enough of a response.”

Most of the related statistics are more than disturbing. For instance, according to Statistics Canada, in 2009, aboriginal women were almost three times as likely as non-aboriginal women to report being the victim of a violent crime; and the majority of violent incidents against aboriginal women were perpetrated by males acting alone.

Who could seriously argue that violence against aboriginal women is not a sociological problem? Well, our prime minister for one.

“I think we should not view this as sociological phenomenon,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Aug. 21. “We should view it as crime.”

We should view such disregard for black-and-white statistics never mind peer-reviewed science and open dialogue as a crime.

Even those or especially those such as Harvard and company, who are working at the grassroots level to address the issue, recognize the potential power of a national inquiry.

“At the federal level, we’ve had very, very little support — and in fact a lot of opposition — and yet at the same time, the provinces have all been very much in support,” Harvard said. “They do recognize the situation, they do recognize the urgency, and each of the provinces and premiers have lent their support to our call for a national inquiry.”

Oct 4th Winnipeg Mb. Photo Facebook

Oct 4th Winnipeg MB, Photo: Facebook

The call is seemingly falling on deaf Conservative ears. Those calling for a national inquiry could hope for a change in government in a year’s time (both the Liberals and NDP support the call). But that’s a long way off and far from guaranteed.

Perhaps, as national political columnist Chantal Hebert recently suggested, it’s time for the provinces to prove they’re more than collective critics of the feds and host a national inquiry of their own.