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Federal government begins process for murdered, missing Indigenous women inquiry

Author: 
By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON
Volume: 
33
Issue: 
9
Year: 
2015

December 9, 2015

One of the first actions taken by the Notley government when elected was to throw NDP support behind the call for a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.

The federal government has made that call.

Throughout his election campaign, Justin Trudeau said the government would convene a national inquiry. Yesterday, the Liberals honoured that commitment. Just hours before the official announcement outlining how the inquiry would take shape, Trudeau reiterated at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly that the inquiry was a priority for his government “because those touched by this national tragedy have waited long enough. The victims deserve justice, their families an opportunity to heal and to be heard. We must work together to put an end to this ongoing tragedy.”

“We are pleased that the federal government is moving quickly to take first steps on this important initiative,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in a statement.

For years, the Harper government denied the necessity of such an inquiry. But his successor, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, Sturgeon River-Parkland MP, stood firm with the Liberals in supporting the inquiry.

Ministers Carolyn Bennett (Indigenous and northern affairs), Jody Wilson-Raybould (justice and attorney general) and Patty Hajdu (status of women) made the announcement in Ottawa, breaking down what is to be a two phase process.

The first phase is to begin immediately, said Wilson-Raybould, and will involve meeting with families of victims, frontline service workers, national Aboriginal, provincial, and territorial representatives over the next two months. This phase will be used to design and set the scope of the inquiry.  

“The inquiry itself is to be able to find concrete action that will actually stop this national tragedy. That includes seeking justice for the families, support for those families, but what we’ve heard time and time again is that these families want to prevent this tragedy so that other families don’t have to go through this,” said Bennett.

Bennett was blunt in saying that prejudice plays a key role in what has transpired.

“Racism and sexism in this country kills,” she said.

Dr. Dawn Lavell Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, agrees.

“We can’t see (this inquiry) as just retrying specific cases of crimes. It needs to keep that larger perspective of what are the systemic problems, the racism and sexism that are contributing to the lack of safety, that are contributing to the lack of police response, that are contributing to the unsafe situations,” she said. Lavell Harvard was in Edmonton last week to speak about violence that faces Aboriginal women.

“We need to make sure that (the inquiry) is keeping the larger framework of the human rights perspective, that this is about ensuring Indigenous women and girls specifically, Indigenous people in general, have basic human rights. The right to safety, the right to the same quality of life as everybody here in Canada. Because it is those larger root causes that makes our people more vulnerable, that puts them in unsafe conditions,” she said.  

Aboriginal Relations Minister Kathleen Ganley said the province will be consulting with First Nations and Metis to see where resources should be focused on addressing those root causes.

Ganley announced yesterday that the province will also be undertaking a research project to get a handle on provincial attitudes toward Aboriginal women.

Figures released by the RCMP in 2014 indicated close to 1,200 Indigenous women murdered or missing between 1980 and 2012, with 1,017 women as homicide victims and 164 women considered missing.

While the Liberals outlined a two-year, $40 million commitment to the inquiry, Bennett was clear that the figures were simply “place holders” in the platform and would be adjusted depending on what the ministers heard as consultations progressed.

Read more: For comprehensive coverage of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls please follow this link.

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