The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Saskatchewan premier backs public inquiry on missing, murdered aboriginal women

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CHARLOTTETOWN - Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he doesn't know how long any level of government can ignore something like the murder of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl before looking at ways to prevent such deaths.

Tina Fontaine was found wrapped in a bag and dumped in the Red River in Winnipeg. Her death has prompted renewed calls for a public inquiry into the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Wall says provinces and aboriginal leaders back that call, even if the federal government isn't on board.

"I think when the provinces are united as we are, together with the national aboriginal leadership, I think there is momentum," Wall said Monday in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.

"I think the RCMP have agreed in principle with the importance of an inquiry and I think there is momentum picking up.

"And then you have the absolute tragedy that has been ... highlighted ... in Manitoba. I don't know how long you ignore those kinds of things at any particular level of government before you want to ask every single question that you can possibly ask to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

In May, the RCMP issued a detailed statistical breakdown of 1,181 cases since 1980. It said aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

The force said the next phase is to have a broader conversation and make recommendations.

Sgt. Greg Cox, an RCMP media relations officer in Ottawa, said Monday that it is not the place for police to weigh in on the question of a public inquiry.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said it has not been asked to endorse one into missing and murdered aboriginal women. Association president, Vancouver police Chief Const. Jim Chu, said the group has no position on the issue, but its aboriginal policing committee will reach out to organizations such as the Native Women's Association of Canada to find out more.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission said in May that it believes a national inquiry is needed.

And on a visit to Canada last fall, James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, also said the federal government should set up a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada.

The federal government has firmly rejected an inquiry, saying it prefers aboriginal justice programs and a national DNA missing person's index.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said most cases such as Fontaine's are addressed and solved by the police. He added that it was important to keep in mind that the girl's death was a crime and not a "sociological phenomenon.''

The issue will be on the agenda when premiers and aboriginal leaders hold their annual meeting this week in Prince Edward Island.

"There will be a call for an inquiry and it looks like the federal government is just saying "no," so I'm not sure there will be progress there, but the discussions are always helpful," Wall said.

"The aboriginal leadership of the country puts these issues on the table and immediately I think premiers, provinces and territories start to look at ... what are we doing to respond to these things. It's (been) helpful to me in the past to come out of the meetings and talk to officials and say 'Where are we at?'

"We're making progress on some of the issues, but you know I think more can be done."

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina

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