Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Provinces push for national inquiry

Want probe of missing, slain native women

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Nine of Canada's provinces pressed Wednesday for a national inquiry into missing and slain aboriginal women across the country.

The action came after a meeting in Winnipeg of aboriginal affairs ministers from every province and territory except British Columbia.

"We jointly call upon the federal government to call a national inquiry into this matter of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls," said Manitoba's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, chairman of the working group of the provincial and territorial aboriginal affairs.

The ministers included three premiers who hold aboriginal affairs portfolios: New Brunswick's David Alward, the Northwest Territories' Bob McLeod and Nunavut's Eva Aariak.

British Columbia, where Liberal Premier Christy Clark's party is fighting for re-election, was not represented at the Winnipeg meeting. Robinson said B.C.'s absence did not weaken the stand Wednesday.

The 2012 B.C. Commission of Inquiry into Missing Women was raised by name as a model of best practices in the ministers' joint communiqué Wednesday.

Never before have Canada's provinces issued a joint call for a national public inquiry into the disappearance and slayings of an estimated 600 aboriginal women in Canada. There are 80 missing and slain aboriginal women in Manitoba under police investigation.

It's also the first time Canada's provinces and territories have taken such a united stand with the five national aboriginal organizations.

The Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Native Women's Association of Canada have made repeated calls for such a national public inquiry.

"This is really a significant move," Robinson said. "Every province and territory is doing something on its own, but as aboriginal ministers and leaders of national aboriginal organizations, we've never gone down this road together where we're collective in our voice," Robinson said.

Up to now, the provinces have shied away from an inquiry, agreeing only to consider a task force, which has a narrower scope of inquiry, at a meeting last fall in Saskatchewan.

Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer said it was hearing personal stories of so many families who'd suffered the loss of relatives compared with non-aboriginal families that made the difference. And the shift was emotional, he said.

"We get into these meetings and people quote statistics and percentages, but when you hear a story like that, it drives it home, viscerally for people. And it was that kind of visceral emotion that impelled the provinces to support this issue," Zimmer said.

Michele Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, welcomed the call and described it as shift she didn't expect.

"I even cried. My God, politically there is a major step here. The premiers and the ministers across Canada agree with the national (aboriginal) leaders," Audette said.

As chairman, Robinson said he will make the call to Ottawa in a formal letter on the ministers' behalf.

The provinces are also asking Ottawa to consult with them, the territories and Canada's five national aboriginal organizations on the terms of reference for an inquiry.

Parliament agreed to appoint a special committee on the matter of missing and slain aboriginal women, but so far the federal government has resisted demands for a national public inquiry.

In Ottawa Wednesday, Justice Department spokeswoman Julie Di Mambro didn't shut the door on it.

But she cited government's agreement to the parliamentary committee and added the Conservatives have a raft of related anti-crime initiatives that encompass the concerns of missing and slain aboriginal women.

"Our government has taken concrete action to address the tragic issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. We have made significant investments to give new tools to law enforcement and to improve the justice system," Di Mambro said.

"This includes creating a new National Centre for Missing Persons, improving law enforcement databases and developing community safety plans specifically designed for aboriginal communities. Over the past seven years, we have also passed over 30 measures to keep our streets and communities safe," the spokeswoman said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2013 A8

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