The meetings last week in Winnipeg on Canada's missing and slain aboriginal women ended with disjointed, disappointing results. A conference of provincial, federal and native groups attracted no federal ministers. Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, decamped to meet minds with Manitoba chiefs at a similar meeting nearby.
There is little agreement on what needs to be done to understand the national dimensions and roots of the problem. Some 600 aboriginal women have gone missing or been slain in the last couple of decades. Many of the killings remain unsolved, according to work done by Amnesty International and the National Women's Association.
The provincial ministers attending the meeting agreed something national in scope is required, but said they needed clearer marching orders from their respective governments. They agreed to meet again and keep talking next year.
The AFN and numerous other native organizations, including the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, are clamouring for a national inquiry. The inquiry would not just centre on the missing and slain and the police investigations into the cases, but also the socio-economic conditions that put aboriginal women in general at heightened risk of violence. Many, but certainly not all, the victims were connected to the sex trade.
The provinces and native leaders should be able to agree on something substantial in the immediate term. There is a good database of the cases of missing and slain women. Police task forces across Canada have looked at their own files, redoubled efforts to find dropped clues. There has been no national review of the cases, the quality of investigations and the commonalities among the victims, by a forensic investigator.
This research might find weaknesses in police work -- the provinces agree better co-operation across borders is needed -- and show the critical elements that could have precipitated the disappearances and killings. It would not be a national -- expensive, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson noted -- inquiry. But it would be something tangible, timely and well worth the cost.