OTTAWA -- A national inquiry to address violence against aboriginal women would not mean delaying action to combat issues such as poverty and racism, premiers and other proponents argued Wednesday. But the gulf between inquiry supporters and the federal government appeared to get wider as both Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office and Justice Minister Peter MacKay said an inquiry would just get in the way of actions to solve the problems.
Ten days after the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River, the rhetoric continued to rage around whether a national inquiry is even necessary.
MacKay said first and foremost, the answer is to find Fontaine's killer and bring them to justice.
"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," MacKay said in a written statement.
MacKay said the government is already working to address the violence through 30 public safety and justice initiatives, including tougher sentences, funding for programs to combat violence against aboriginal women, and a new $8-million national DNA missing-persons database.
His office has a list of 40 reports from 1996 to 2013 that delved into the issue from various angles and made more than 500 recommendations in total.
At least two more reports have been released this year, including an RCMP study in May that delivered detailed statistics. The RCMP report shows 1,181 aboriginal women were slain or went missing in Canada from 1980 to 2012, including 196 in Manitoba. "Now is the time to take action, not to continue to study the issue," MacKay said.
However, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said: "It's not either, or."
"The reality is we still have to get on with doing things every single day to protect aboriginal women and girls," Selinger said.
An inquiry, he said, could help look at connecting the reasons so many aboriginal women face violence, to solutions.
Canada's premiers met Wednesday with five aboriginal leaders in Prince Edward Island and agreed to hold a roundtable that involves provincial and federal minister responsible for issues affecting aboriginal peoples.
P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz acknowledged the forum is a compromise, with the evidence suggesting a national inquiry is a no-go for Harper.
Selinger stressed the premiers still prefer an inquiry but said a roundtable involving ministers is a way to address some of the concerns and kick-start communication between aboriginal leaders and the federal government.
"It's a very practical approach," he said. "It was an idea put forward to keep things moving. Why anybody would not support that, I don't know."
'What we don't need is yet another study on top of the some 40 studies and reports that have already been done...'
The new commitment did not come with any details of when it would happen or how it would work.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he still supported the idea of an inquiry, but he also said a federal-provincial roundtable would be a good way to spur some action.
"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," Wall said.
Wall said the provinces have already set up something similar for health-care innovation.
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair accused Harper of using the litany of previous studies as reason not to act. But he said they are just a patchwork of studies and not a single one can take the place of a comprehensive national inquiry pulling together all the pieces of the puzzle.
"Their existence reinforces the need for an inquiry," he said. "No one has done all the work."
Mulcair said the fact RCMP can point to 1,181 missing or slain aboriginal women since 1980, and that aboriginal women make up four per cent of the female population but 16 per cent of the women who are slain in Canada, cannot be ignored.
"This is a national shame," he said. "If 1,200 women were murdered or went missing in a city like Ottawa, would we need the United Nations to tell us to have an inquiry? It would have been held a long time ago."
Studies and more studies
Many reports have been produced on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. While this list may not be all-encompassing, it provides a good indication of the extent to which this issue has been the subject of study:
1) Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada - Human Rights Watch, 2013
2) Coordinated and Urgent Action to End Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls - Towards a National Action Plan - Assembly of First Nations (AFN), 2012
3) Criminal Victimization in the Territories, 2009 - Statistics Canada, 2012
4) Summary Report: Yukon Aboriginal Women's Summit 2 - Strong Women, Strong Communities: Restoring Our Balance - Yukon Advisory Council on Women's Issues; Yukon Women's Directorate, 2012
5) Forsaken - The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry - Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, 2012
'Their existence reinforces the need for an inquiry. No one has done all the work'
6) Voices of the Families - Recommendations of the Families of the Missing and Murdered Women - Consultation report prepared for the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, 2012
7) Addressing the Legacy of Residential Schools - Library of Parliament, 2011
8) Ending Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls: Empowerment - A New Beginning - House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women, 2011
9) First Nations, Métis and Inuit Women - Statistics Canada, 2011 -
10) Increasing Safety for Aboriginal Women: Key Themes and Resources - Community Coordination for Women's Safety (CCWS); Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA), 2011
11) Interim Report - Call Into the Night: An Overview of Violence Against Aboriginal Women - House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women, 2011
12) Collaboration to End Violence: National Aboriginal Women's Forum: Report on Outcomes and Recommendations from Working Sessions - Co-hosted by the Province of British Columbia's Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and the Native Women's Association of Canada, 2011
13) Stopping Violence Against Aboriginal Women: A Summary of Root Causes, Vulnerabilities and Recommendations from Key Literature - British Columbia Ministry of Citizens' Services, 2011
14) Violence Against Aboriginal Women: Scan and Report - Canadian Women's Foundation, 2011
15) Violent Victimization of Aboriginal Women in the Canadian Provinces, 2009 - Statistics Canada, 2011 -
16) A Framework for Action in Education, Economic Development and Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls - Aboriginal Affairs Working Group, 2010
17) Issues Related to the High Number of Murdered and Missing Women in Canada - Missing Women Working Group of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT) Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials on Criminal Justice, 2010
18) What Their Stories tell Us: Research Findings from the Sisters in Spirit Initiative - Native Women's Association of Canada, 2010 19) Final Report: Strengthening the Circle to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women - Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres; Ontario Native Women's Association; Métis Nation of Ontario; Independent First Nations, 2009
20) First Nations Communities at Risk and in Crisis: Justice and Security - Journal of Aboriginal Health, November 2009
21) Knowledge Exchange Workshop: Successful Approaches for the Prevention of Family Violence - Hosted by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), 2009
22) No More Stolen Sisters: The Need for a Comprehensive Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada - Amnesty International, 2009
23) Voices of our Sisters in Spirit: A Report to Families and Communities - Native Women's Association of Canada, 2009
24) Jumping Through Hoops: A Manitoba Study Examining the Experiences and Reflections of Aboriginal Mothers Involved with Child Welfare and Legal Systems Respecting Child Protection Matters - First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, 2008
25) National Aboriginal Women's Summit (NAWS I - Newfoundland and Labrador): Strong Women, Strong Communities - Summary Report: A Call for Action - National Aboriginal Women's Summit, 2008
26) Strategic Framework to End Violence Against Wabanaki Women in New Brunswick - New Brunswick Advisory Committee on Violence against Aboriginal Women, 2008
27) A Strategic Framework to End Violence Against Aboriginal Women - Ontario Native Women's Association; Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, 2007
28) Final Report of the Provincial Partnership Committee on Missing Persons - Provincial Partnership Committee on Missing Persons, 2007
29) A Review of Research on Criminal Victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples 1990 to 2001 - Chartrand and McKay Consulting, 2006
30) Aboriginal Women and Family Violence - Ipsos-Reid Corporation, 2006
31) Ending Violence in Aboriginal Communities: Best Practices in Aboriginal Shelters and Communities - National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, 2006
32) National Strategy to Prevent Abuse in Inuit Communities and Sharing Knowledge, Sharing Wisdom - Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006
33) Summary of the Policy Forum on Aboriginal Women and Violence: Building Safe and Healthy Families and Communities - An initiative of the FPT Ministers responsible for the Status of Women, 2006
34) The Highway of Tears Symposium Recommendation Report - Lheidli T'enneh First Nation; Carrier Sekani Family Services; Carrier Sekani Tribal Council; Prince George Native Friendship Centre; Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment & Training Association; Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment & Training Association, 2006
35) Nuluaq Project: National Inuit Strategy for Abuse Prevention: Applying Inuit Cultural Approaches in the Prevention of Family Violence and Abuse - Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2005
36) Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada - Amnesty International, 2004
37) Aboriginal Domestic Violence in Canada - Four Worlds Centre for Development Learning; Michael Bopp, Ph.D.; Judie Bopp, Ph.D,; Phil Lane, Jr., 2003
38) Moving Toward Safety: Responding to Family Violence in Aboriginal and Northern Communities of Labrador - Provincial Association Against Family Violence
39) Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba - Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, 1999
40) Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples - Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996